By Mark Zinman | Zona Law
On a national level, for fair housing purposes, we have seven (7) protected classes – race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, and disability. As a state, Arizona has mirrored those seven protected classes and has not added any others. A few cities that were statutorily permitted to, added additional protected classes, such as the City of Phoenix’s decision to include sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class. Tucson has now gone further than any other city in the state and added a new protected class that has not existed in Arizona’s history. It’s also unclear whether Tucson had the legal authority to do so, but it’s necessary for property owners to be aware of this change and follow it unless the law is challenged and struck down.
On September 27, the Tucson City Council voted to amend the city Fair Housing laws to make “source of income” a protected class. This means that a Tucson property owner cannot have blanket prohibitions against residents based solely on where their funds for rent come from. In other words, an owner can no longer refuse a resident because that resident uses a Section 8 housing voucher to pay the monthly rent. A resident must still meet all other rental criteria, but anything related to their source of income, cannot be used as a basis to deny an application.
While Section 8 and similar programs serve an important purpose, mandating that owners participate will entirely change the landlord-tenant relationship as a two-party contract. Leases will now be a contract between the landlord, the tenant, and the government. It is expected that this law will be challenged in court or in other venues, given a state preemption on fair housing laws. However, as this is now the law in the City of Tucson, it is important that property owners in the city follow the law.
Here are a couple of preliminary points for owners to follow:
- What is included/considered SOI? Housing vouchers, rental subsidy (including but not limited to Section 8, HUD, Home Inc., etc.), Supplemental Security Income, Veteran’s benefits, rental assistance, salary, or other legal sources of income. You must accept payment of rent from such sources, even if it requires you to participate in a program such as Section 8.
- Can a landlord opt-out of these programs or participation in rental assistance? No. As SOI is now a protected class, a landlord cannot opt-out of such programs and must accept the applicant if they otherwise qualify.
- What qualifications must a person with a voucher meet? All applicants must meet all of your qualifications, including credit and criminal background, except any requirement relating to income that would automatically bar them without the voucher.
- What is the appropriate response to an applicant who asks if we accept Section 8 vouchers? “Yes, we do. Please apply and we accept anyone who qualifies.”
- Our rental standard requires that an applicant must make three times (3x) the rent to qualify for an apartment. Can I reject an applicant using a Section 8 voucher as they won’t make three times the rent? No. When qualifying someone using a voucher or other subsidy, you would require they make three times the monthly rent for their portion of the rent, not the full rent which includes the subsidy. For example, if the rent on an apartment is $2,000 per month, usually you would require the applicant to have a $6,000 income in a month. With a housing voucher, you would only require they have three times the tenant portion of the rent. If the rent is $2,000 but the subsidy covers $1,500 per month, then the tenant’s portion is only $500.00, and they would only need to show three times the $500 per month.
- Housing assistance is offering us $2,000 for the unit, but our market rent is $2,500, do we have to lower our rent? No.
- Can I charge the regular deposit, or do I have to reduce this? You can charge up to 1.5 times the full monthly rent (including the subsidized amount). You can charge the same as you would to any other tenant, just not anything additional.
It is important to note that this only applies to the City of Tucson at this time. Also, while there are exceptions to those who have to follow fair housing laws, such exceptions will never apply to large operators, and we always suggest clients follow fair housing laws even when an exception may apply.