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Don’t get sued for denying Section 8 applicants


Understanding the perspectives of both landlord and tenant is essential while practicing landlord-tenant law in San Francisco. Lately, many different housing discrimination lawsuits related to Section 8 have taken place, and we have represented clients on both sides with legitimate cases. We know that, while there are appropriate situations in which to file a housing discrimination lawsuit, there are also suits filed hastily. We’re here to provide helpful information for both landlords and tenants in the hopes that we can create a more conducive environment for peaceful conflict resolution.

At Steven Adair MacDonald & Partners, P.C., we know that there are two sides to every story. Because of this, we’ve dedicated our firm to solving landlord-tenant disputes and real estate issues in San Francisco for more than 30 years. Rather than demonizing one side or the other, we seek positive, workable solutions for both parties. We also provide services related to real estate litigation. If you want your story to be heard, you need our dedicated landlord-tenant lawyers at Steven Adair MacDonald & Partners, P.C. To schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, please call 415-956-6488 today.

How to Avoid Housing Discrimination When Screening Tenants?

First and foremost, always make a point to understand Section 8 Housing Laws. Specifically, we wish to remind you that, effective January 1st, 2020, California now requires landlords to accept Section 8 housing vouchers as income sources. In other words, landlords may not discriminate against tenants due to their housing voucher. In this section, we explain how best to avoid housing discrimination as you screen applicants for tenancy.

  • Credit Check, Income Check, and References: Running credit checks is a common practice for today’s landlords. Additionally, many landlords check sources of income and ask for references. While requesting this information, be consistent. Don’t ask for certain information only from single parents or certain ethnicities.
  • Business-Based Choices: As long as you base your decisions purely on business reasons, you may legally pick and choose your tenants. Personal choices have no place in this arena of decision-making. For example, you may reject an applicant based on bad credit, but not based on race.
  • Know the Rules: Housing laws specifically outline what is considered an illegal reason to reject a tenant. Prohibited reasons for discrimination include race, religion, national origin, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, and marital status.
  • Educate Your Staff: If you employ staff to screen tenants, make sure they understand and abide by the fair housing laws in California. As the owner of the property, you may be held liable for any discriminatory actions that your employees practice. 
  • Practice Consistency: This is crucial during the tenant screening process. Landlords must treat all prospective tenants equally, or face the consequences. To avoid housing discrimination lawsuits, ensure that any standards you set for tenants apply to all tenants, not just those of a certain group.

Right vs. Wrong Messaging

Certain language opens the door for housing discrimination lawsuits. The words a landlord uses when rejecting or screening tenants is extremely important, especially when it comes to the Section 8 Housing Program. At Steven Adair MacDonald & Partners, we wish to protect our clients from both discrimination and lawsuits. Below, we provide examples of good and bad communication styles for landlords to use.

Wrong Way Right Way
“We no longer accept Section 8 applicants.” “All applications are welcome.”
“Our units do not accommodate Section 8.” “We consider many factors in our rental decisions. However, the source of your income is not a concern.”
“Section 8 is too complicated for us to deal with.” “We welcome any and all applicants to apply, regardless of their background.”
“Those with Section 8 vouchers are not the renters we are trying to attract.” “Here, we maintain full compliance with federal and state fair housing laws, and we evaluate applicants based on business reasons.”

Should a landlord make a mistake during the screening process, there are many attorneys looking to sue. We encourage landlords to know the laws, and for tenants to understand how to spot discriminatory practices. Additionally, San Francisco’s Police Code Article 33, Section 3304 makes it more costly for landlords when people file housing discrimination lawsuits. While we understand that many people in the rental community employ a blanket policy of turning down applicants with Section 8 housing vouchers, this is an illegal practice. Should a tenant choose to sue for this reason, they have every right to do so.

What Happens After the Investigation of a Fair Housing Act Complaint?

If a tenant believes that a landlord discriminated against them unlawfully, they may file a complaint with the Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity office, or FHEO. This office aims to reduce and eliminate housing discrimination. They investigate fair housing complaints, review compliance, and manage fair housing grants. Below, we outline their process of investigating a Fair Housing Act complaint.

  • Intake: A tenant wishes to file a complaint. The FHEO interviews this individual, drafts a formal complaint on their behalf, and notifies the appropriate parties of the complaint. Sometimes, the FHEO begins compliance reviews based on the formal complaint.
  • Investigation: FHEO assigns at least one investigator to review the allegations. The party against whom the complaint is filed is notified of the complaint, and is given an opportunity to respond. Investigators gather evidence and necessary information, then send the complainant a findings report.
  • Conciliation or Compliance: During the course of the investigation, the FHEO tries to facilitate conflict resolution. If the parties reach an agreement, FHEO prepares the agreement for signature by both sides. Following an agreement, the case is closed, but monitored for compliance.
  • Legal Action: Based on the findings of the case, the government might bring one of several housing discrimination lawsuits against the offender. Often, victims of these cases receive compensation. These cases go before Administrative Law judges, and they either do or do not issue a charge of discrimination.

Contact San Francisco Landlord Tenant Lawyers

The result of any landlord-tenant dispute is a matter that should be taken seriously. That’s why at Steven Adair MacDonald & Partners, P.C., we work hard to achieve positive solutions with our clients in order to optimize their outcomes and make sure they are able get on with life as soon as possible while still protecting what matters most for them – their rights! To set up a consultation with one of our attorneys, please call 415-956-6488 today.

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