Virginia’s New Fair Housing Protections
By Susie McClannahan
July 8, 2020
Earlier this year, Virginia passed several exciting fair housing bills. These bills make it illegal to discriminate based on source of income (referred to as source of funds in the law), sexual orientation, gender identity, and veteran status. These bills took effect July 1, 2020 and represent a step forward in creating systems that ensure fair housing for all. While all of these changes are important, we want to take time to focus on the new source of income protections.
As of July 1st, it is illegal throughout Virginia to discriminate in housing based on one’s source of income. The law defines source of income as “any source that lawfully provides funds to or on behalf of a renter or buyer of housing, including any assistance, benefit, or subsidy program, whether such program is administered by a governmental or nongovernmental entity.” This means that housing providers cannot deny somebody because they pay for their rent with the use of a housing voucher, rental subsidy, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), veteran’s benefits, or other legal sources of income.
By far the most common type of source of income discrimination is towards people with housing vouchers or subsidies. Housing vouchers and subsidies allow households with low incomes to obtain housing in the private market by subsidizing their rent. Vouchers usually cover a portion of the rent with the voucher holder paying the remaining amount; however, in some cases a voucher will cover the entirety of the voucher holder’s rent. The voucher payment comes from the local Housing Authority, other government agency, or a nonprofit organization, and the tenant’s payment comes from their own income or savings.
Discrimination based on source of income can take many forms. Sometimes, landlords outright refuse to accept certain types of vouchers or subsidies, such as Housing Choice Vouchers and rapid re-housing vouchers. Housing providers might also post discriminatory advertisements, such as stating “no vouchers” or “Section 8 not accepted.”
Discrimination towards voucher holders can also be more subtle, such as setting minimum income requirements that result in most voucher holders being denied. Minimum income requirements for rental properties are common but are often incorrectly applied for voucher holders. Landlords often require that applicants make three or four times the amount of monthly rent. For an applicant using a voucher, this requirement should only be applied to their portion of rent not covered by the voucher.
For example, if a unit’s total monthly rent is $2,000 and the tenant is responsible for paying $200, the housing voucher covers the remaining balance: $1,800. Therefore, a legal income requirement would be three times the tenant’s portion of the rent, $200 x 3, which is $600 per month or $7,200 per year. The landlord may only require that the tenant make $600 per month. If the landlord were to instead say that the applicant’s income must be three times the total monthly rent, or $6,000 per month, that would be discriminatory and likely illegal. This is because such an income requirement would likely disqualify many, if not all, voucher holders from applying, since individuals only qualify for vouchers if they make less than a certain income amount.
Source of income discrimination has significant consequences for voucher holders, making it extremely difficult for them to find a safe and secure place to live. Whether a landlord is intentionally trying to avoid renting to voucher holders or is genuinely unaware of how to calculate a legal income requirement for a voucher holder, discrimination is an additional obstacle to voucher holders finding housing.
If you believe you may have experienced discrimination in housing, you can contact the Equal Rights Center. To report your experience, please call 202-234-3062 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.