Some state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would prevent discrimination against tenants and applicants for housing, based on where they earned their income.
Senate Bill 5378 specifically tries to protect tenants with housing vouchers or subsidies from various local, state and federal agencies. The language prohibits discrimination based on the source of income of an otherwise eligible tenant.
Places like Seattle, unincorporated King County, Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland and Vancouver already have similar protections.
Now, Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, is sponsoring this bill to take that protection statewide.
At a hearing last Thursday, Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, questioned the possibility of more lawsuits against landlords, because of the bill.
“If somebody didn’t pay their rent in a past place, and they came to apply to a new place but happened to have one of these sources of income, I just would like to see how some of the case law has played out,” Hargrove said.
Hargrove also stated concern with stories he had heard of section 8 tenants who destroyed a space, without recourse for the landlord.
Chester Baldwin, a lawyer for the Washington Rental Owners Association, told lawmakers, “One of the problems with section 8 is that it has a lot of extra requirements in trying to get somebody out of a unit who may have caused problems.”
In fact, KIRO 7 found an ad on Craigslist illegally stating “no section 8” for a house within Seattle city limits. When asked why that restriction was listed, the landlord responded that it was an older house, and that it would be too expensive to make the improvements needed for Section 8 compliance.
Opponents also fear other housing subsidies outside of Section 8 are too unpredictable, with some programs being notorious for yanking funding from a tenant without much notice.
A landlord testified at the state hearing that at least Section 8 is a consistent form of payment and that he liked working with tenants who had vouchers.
Carissa Daniels, a Section 8 voucher recipient, said most people do not accept the voucher these days.
“I get ‘no’ 99 times out 100,” she said. “It’s that bad. It’s dire.”
Daniels currently attends Seattle University, while also working as a domestic violence victims’ advocate.
She said landlords tend to believe a Section 8 tenant will be more of a problem, but receiving the voucher means meeting certain standards. One landlord said such tenants are usually very well behaved, because they don’t want to lose the subsidy.
“It’s so difficult because they pass judgment on you, regardless of who you actually are,” Daniels said.
While the tight housing market allows for landlords to have their pickings of tenants, tenants with vouchers are sometimes not finding any landlord who will accept them after months of searching.
On the other end of the spectrum, management companies continue to advertise specials and discounts for tenants working for ‘preferred employers,’ like Boeing, Amazon, Microsoft, Nordstrom, local hospitals and local colleges.
The discounts can include $200 off a security deposit or one month of free rent.
Miloscia’s office said the bill was not intended to cover such issues of "preferred employer" discounts. Lawmakers are still working on language that would satisfy the needs of both landlords and tenants.
The city of Seattle Office For Civil Rights had taken interest in "preferred employer" perks last fall. A spokesperson in that department said they are currently working on developing guidance that will provide examples of whether different types of preferred employer programs could be in violation of fair housing laws.
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