From a landlord’s perspective, screening tenants who apply to rent a home or apartment can be tricky business. The goal for landlords is to secure great tenants – someone who is going to pay the rent on time, not damage the property or cause trouble, and move out of the properties at the end of their lease leaving it clean and in good condition.

The challenge is people are people, and not everyone is going to behave that way. Unfortunately, some people can’t pay their rent and some end up leaving it a mess when they move out.

To reduce the likelihood of getting “bad” tenants, landlords the world over have come up with various methods to predict the likelihood of a given applicant being a “good” tenant. This is no different than applying for a car loan or new job. As an applicant you and your background are being scrutinized.

Housing, however, is a special type of transaction and is recognized at the state and federal levels as being essential. So, while landlords may want to be highly selective when choosing applicants, the government has said, nope, there are certain criteria you must meet and you cannot discriminate when it comes to housing.

We can all agree that laws ensuring stable and secure housing for everyone is a good thing, especially because these laws are intended to address the inherent power imbalance between a landlord and tenant.

A Short History on Fair Housing Legislation

In April 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed the federal Fair Housing Act, which was part of the broader Civil Rights Act of 1968. The legislation prohibits discrimination concerning the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex, and handicap and family status.

Several years later in 1974 the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program was enacted as Section 8 of the United States Housing Act. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administers the program federally, with local agencies administering the vouchers at the city and state levels. These laws are all intended to protect against housing discrimination.

Where We are Today

Since the initial passing of the Fair Housing Act in the 60s, laws have been further refined at local and federal levels. It is illegal to discriminate against protected classes, but if there are no protections in place, landlords may make choices that serve their interests.

Now governing bodies are enacting policies to protect “source of income” as a protected class. What “source of income” refers to is where a tenant’s money comes from to pay for the house or rental apartment. As a protected class, this means landlords cannot discriminate based on where their rent payment is coming from.

These protections, though essential and important, can make staying in compliance for landlords challenging. We’ll discuss this and more of what Section 8 means for landlords and tenants in our next blog post. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, be sure to listen to more of the conversation about this topic on our podcast Owner Occupied.