Legal “shake downs” are on the rise when landlords and property managers improperly and categorically state  NO to prospective Section 8 tenant applicants

We want our clients to tread with caution when rental applicants seek information as to whether or not an owner will accept an applicant with a Section 8 voucher.  It is impermissible to discriminate on the basis of “source of income” and there are many enterprising attorneys all too willing to litigate when landlords or their agents trip up. 

Bornstein Law wants our community to be aware of a rash of housing discrimination lawsuits. Indeed, several of our own clients have been sued for summarily rejecting an applicant who seeks confirmation as to whether an owner will participate in a Section 8 Housing Program. It is a violation of law to deny a tenancy because the tenant receives housing assistance. Please do not discriminate and do not make categorical statements of denial.

When fielding rental applications, we urge you to couch your words carefully and do not make categorical statements. With this communication, less is more.

There is a right way and a wrong way of messaging


Examples of perilous, wrong communication: 

“Sorry, we are not taking Section 8 applicants at this time.”

“We do not have any Section 8 units.”

“Section 8 is not a fit for us.”

“There’s too many hoops to jump through with Section 8.”

“Not the type of renters we are trying to attract.”

"I’m sorry, we do not take Section 8 vouchers."

Examples of legal, proper communication: 

“We welcome all applications.”

“We base our rental decisions on a number of factors, but source of income is not one of them.”

“Everyone is welcome to apply. Would you like to submit an application?”

“We are in full compliance with fair housing laws and certainly evaluate all of the applications on the merits.”

Mistakes can be costly.

Believe us, folks, there is no shortage of attorneys willing to sue you. In fact, back in 2019, we posted a story on social media about one attorney who seems to make a living with “gotcha” moments whenever a Section 8 tenant is shooed away. 

If the tenant is told that housing vouchers are summarily denied, his or her attorney will ask to settle for an outrageous amount of money or threaten to take the landlord to court for punitive damages. Bornstein Law wants you to avoid going down this treacherous road.

What is the threshold?

California defines discrimination more broadly than federal law and San Francisco's Police Code Article 33 exposes landlords in the city to even more risk and liability when discrimination claims are alleged.

Tenants in San Francisco who feel they have been denied housing because of who they are or because the landlord has frowned on their source of income have greater recourse to air out their grievances in court. With the aid of free legal representation, landlords are more frequently sued.

A word of caution

Many in the rental property community have had a blanket policy of turning down applicants with housing vouchers. If this sounds like you, it is a violation of the law. It can get you sued.  Further, we might recommend keeping an open mind, especially during a time of widespread unemployment and need. Bornstein Law has always operated on the presumption that there are good landlords, bad landlords. Good tenants, bad tenants. 

Whenever we are boxed into pre-conceived notions, whenever we paint rental applicants with a broad brush, there is a risk of discrimination. More than that, there is a risk that a responsible, desirable tenant is improperly given the cold shoulder.

At the end of the day, we want good tenants. How we approach this evaluation and arrive at a decision should be shaped by a confluence of factors and a litmus test should not be applied.