Most LA Landlords Turn Away Section 8 Renters. There Are New Rules To Stop Them

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Los Angeles City Council members voted unanimously on Tuesday to make it illegal for landlords in the city to turn away prospective tenants using government-funded housing vouchers.

The move will be a major change for the city's landlords. Currently, 76% refuse to accept vouchers, according to a 2018 study by the Urban Institute. Vouchers work by partially subsidizing rents for low-income and homeless individuals who can't afford housing on their own.

Councilman Paul Krekorian, who put forward the motion, said the new rules ban discrimination based on a renter's "source of income" and should help more struggling renters find a place to live.

"The mere fact of having a voucher as a means of payment will no longer be allowed as a means of discriminating against a particular tenant," Krekorian said. "That alone will have a dramatic impact."

In recent years, voucher acceptance rates have been so low in Los Angeles that nearly half of participants in the federal Section 8 program end up losing their vouchers because they can't find any landlords in the city who will rent to them.

Landlord denials are also blocking efforts by service providers across the city to house the growing number of people in L.A. falling into homelessness.

Only 45% of homeless veterans with federal housing vouchers are able to find an apartment in Los Angeles, according to the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles. A different voucher administered by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority through the Rapid Re-Housing program is "rapid" in name only — families spend an average of 92 days waiting to enter housing.

"We're facing a homelessness crisis, and we have one of the least affordable housing markets in the entire nation," Krekorian said. "We just can't tolerate a situation where otherwise qualified tenants are turned away by landlords because of the fact that they have a voucher."

Peggy Bailey, vice president for housing policy with the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities, said evidence from other cities shows voucher anti-discrimination laws can help tenants.

She pointed to Washington, D.C., the city where she's based, as an example. Unlike L.A., few landlords there rejected vouchers when contacted as part of the Urban Institute study.

"There's no question about how tight the rental market is in Washington, D.C.," Bailey said. "The evidence shows that non-discrimination laws made a huge difference in landlords accepting voucher holders into their units."

Los Angeles' new ordinance will not force landlords to rent to any voucher holder just because they're interested in taking a unit. Property owners could still choose to rent to other tenants based on standard screening criteria like credit scores, eviction history and ability to meet the asking rent.

Dan Yukelson, executive director at the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, said most L.A. landlords deny Section 8 vouchers because they feel the city's program is poorly run and burdens them with costly delays and confusing requirements.

He predicts many landlords will continue to avoid taking vouchers by simply raising their asking rent above the limits of what programs like Section 8 are willing to pay in Los Angeles.

"It's going to backfire," Yukelson said. "That's going to be the result of trying to force feed Section 8 vouchers on property owners under a poorly administered program."

The city council also voted Tuesday to instruct city staff to report back on ways of streamlining the Section 8 inspection process down to three days or less. Krekorian said he's open to hearing landlords' concerns about the program as the rollout of the new ordinance begins at the start of 2020.

Other lawmakers in California have taken up similar voucher anti-discrimination laws.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to pass new rules that would cover unincorporated areas of L.A. County. And in California's State Legislature, Los Angeles State Senator Holly Mitchell put forward a bill that still needs to clear the State Assembly before going to Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk.

The Center on Budget Policies and Priorities' Peggy Bailey said enforcement will be a key part of making Los Angeles' new ordinance work. She said the city will need to monitor rental listings for common disclaimers like "No Section 8," and they'll need to make sure landlords aren't continuing to reject voucher holders face-to-face when they show up hoping to rent apartments.

UPDATE:

3:40 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect the outcome of a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors vote.

This article was originally published at 11:15 a.m.