Sh*t DC Landlords can’t do: Decline to participate in Section 8

In this installment of Sh*it DC landlords can’t do, we answer the question of whether D.C. landlords can refuse to accept Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8)? Hint: you fu*kin can’t.

In D.C., as is the case in about 40 other jurisdictions (including states, counties and cities) there is a law prohibiting “source of income” discrimination in housing. Basically, that means you cannot refuse to rent to a tenant because their money comes from a subsidy, aid organization, or their mommy.

It’s not the Section 8 tenants that suck, it’s DCHA

If you’ve ever had a Section 8 Tenant you know what an administrative pain-in-the-ass it is. The problem with vouchers is more often with the Housing Authority than the tenant. Dealing with that bureaucratic cluster fu*k is comparable to a February seatless bicycle ride down a DC street. 

Section 8 landlords have to endure program requirements such as an onerous “lease up” process, repetitive inspections and annual recertifications to name a few. The burdens might be tolerable if you actually get your rent money. But, Agency payments are far from guaranteed and getting paid is a constant battle.

Real World Example: A few years ago, a client of mine rented out his condo unit, in a good building, to a wonderful woman who had a voucher. His relationship with his tenant was positive, but the Agency unleashed a special kind of hell on him. 

They withheld his payments because there was peeling paint on the exterior of the building facing an alley, nowhere near the tenants’ unit. My client, who only owned one unit, could not do anything about it and the condo had no interest in addressing this “problem.” So what was my client to do? Simple answer: not get paid. For a small landlord an issue like this can be financially disastrous.

Administrative burden is probably not a good enough reason to refuse vouchers. 

I say “probably” because there has not been a reported case in D.C. in which the court has addressed whether the “DCHA sucks” defense can shield you from source of income discrimination claims.

However, in NJ, which also has a law prohibiting “source of income” discrimination, the courts have outright rejected the administrative burden argument. See Franklin Tower One v. NM, 157 NJ 602, 621, 725 A.2d 1104 (NJ 1999)

Other arguments, like: the D.C. Law forces landlords to participate in what is supposed to be a voluntary federal program, have fallen flat. See Bourbrau v. Jonathan Woodner Co. 549 F.Supp2d 78 (D.D.C. 2008)

Additionally, the D.C. Office of Human Rights has published guidance for landlords, on the do’s and don’ts of declining a Section 8 tenant. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but, they’re all “dont’s.

Smart landlords make renting decisions on a case-by-case basis.

D.C. has one of the most comprehensive human rights laws in the country. You cannot categorically refuse to rent to ugly people (personal appearance), Republicans (political affiliation), and college students (matriculation) to name a few. Having a “general policy” about renting to any “types” of persons puts you at risk for a problem with the Human Rights Office.  If you think you think that DCHA sucks, dealing with Human fu*king Rights is a nightmare.

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