Do Your Local Laws Ban Discrimination Based on Source of Income?

In the July 2013 lesson, Fair Housing Coach explains how to comply with fair housing laws banning discrimination based on source of income. Federal fair housing law doesn’t prohibit discrimination based on source of income, but an increasing number of states and municipalities have added these provisions to their fair housing or civil rights laws in recent years.

The specifics of the laws vary, but they generally ban discrimination against applicants and residents because of where they get their money or financial support. Many—but not all—also cover housing subsidies, most notably Section 8 housing vouchers. The program is now called the Housing Choice Voucher program, but many still use “Section 8” to refer to the federal government’s housing assistance program. Although federal law makes participation in the Section 8 program voluntary for private communities, fair housing laws in some jurisdictions make it unlawful to turn away individuals who use Section 8 housing vouchers to pay their rent.

Here are some tips excerpted from the July lesson on complying with laws banning discrimination based on source of income:

Get to Know State and Local Law. Find out whether your community is subject to state or local laws banning discrimination based on source of income. Currently, 12 states and the District of Columbia include protections based on source of income in their fair housing or civil rights laws. Even if it’s not covered under state law, check whether it’s included in any county and municipal laws that may apply to your community. And ask your attorney for details to determine what the law covers—and specifically what it says about Section 8 housing vouchers and other housing subsidies.

Don’t Reject Applicants Based on Source of Income. To comply with laws banning discrimination based source of income, make sure that you don’t turn away applicants simply because they are unemployed or receive financial assistance, such as rental assistance or disability benefits. Otherwise, you could trigger a fair housing complaint—win or lose, it still can be costly to resolve.

Watch Your Language. Make sure that your compliance efforts extend to what you say in your advertising—and how you respond to telephone or online inquiries—about your willingness to accept Section 8 housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance. The wrong message may trigger a fair housing complaint—or draw the attention of fair housing enforcement officials or organizations, who are monitoring online advertising for compliance with state and local laws banning discrimination based on source of income.

Follow Standard Procedures Regardless of Source of Income. It’s unlawful to refuse to allow a prospect to apply to live in the community—or to impose procedural hurdles that make it more difficult for prospects with housing assistance to get through the application process. Follow standard policies and procedures when dealing with prospects and applicants to ensure that every prospect visiting your leasing office is treated the same way, regardless of their source of income.

Apply Standard Screening Policies. Source-of-income laws ban discrimination against applicants because of where they get their income—not the amount of their income. You may ask about the source of the applicant’s income, as long as you don’t discriminate based on that information.

Apply the Same Terms and Conditions, Regardless of Source of Income. In jurisdictions where the laws include protections for housing subsidies, it would be unlawful to require Section 8 voucher holders to pay a larger security deposit or higher rent than that required of other residents.

It would also be unlawful to treat residents differently or enforce community rules and policies more strictly against residents based on their source of income.

For the complete July 2013 lesson and quiz, see “Complying with Fair Housing Laws Protecting Source of Income” on our homepage or in our online Archive.


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