Do you write “No Section 8” in your apartment ads, or you do you tell inquiring prospects that you don’t “take Section 8”?
Before you follow a policy of turning away prospects with Section 8 vouchers, you should first take a moment to find out whether what you’re doing is legal.
If prospective tenants ask if you take Section 8, they want to know if you would accept part of their rent through the Housing Choice Voucher Program (still commonly known as the tenant-based Section 8 program). But just because a prospect asks such a question doesn’t mean the answer is up to you. Before you respond, you should be sure of whether your state or local fair housing law bars you from turning away prospects for this reason.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) (42 U.S. Code § § 3601-3619 and 3631), a federal law, doesn’t bar landlords from discriminating based on Section 8. But some states and municipalities do, often as part of a broader ban on “source of income” or “public assistance status” under the state or local fair housing law. For example, Chicago’s municipal code includes a housing discrimination ban based on source of income that includes applicants who have Section 8 vouchers.
Search online (start by checking the State Information section of the HUD website) and contact your local fair housing agency to see if the law protects prospects and tenants based on the fact they have Section 8 vouchers. (If you own multiple properties in different states, counties, or towns, be sure to check the law for each location.) If you learn that state and local laws don’t ban this type of discrimination, then it’s up to you to decide whether to accept applicants with Section 8 vouchers.
As a landlord, you could face liability whether or not you must comply with a discrimination ban. So, after you learn whether your state or local fair housing law bars discrimination against applicants with Section 8 vouchers, follow some tips to avoid accusations.
If you’re required to take Section 8, keep these pointers in mind:
If you discover that you’re not required to take Section 8 and may follow your own policy, these tips can help you avoid fair housing trouble:
The Rental Applications and Tenant Screening section of Nolo.com includes several useful articles on how to legally choose tenants and avoid fair housing complaints and lawsuits. Also, check out Every Landlord’s Legal Guide, by Marcia Stewart, Ralph Warner and Janet Portman (Nolo) for detailed advice on housing discrimination and how to avoid fair housing lawsuits.