Section 8 Voucher Holders: Know Your Rights

What’s something landlords in San Francisco, Denver, Memphis, Chicago and Washington, DC have in common? They are located in one of the fewer than 100 U.S. cities prohibiting housing discrimination based on source of income. In other words, if you are a Section 8 voucher holder, a potential landlord may not hold that against you and deny your rental application in San Francisco.

The federal Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) Program is the primary source of rental assistance for low income, elderly and special needs American citizens. Most tenants pay about 30% of their take-home adjusted income on rent, and the remainder is paid by the program. In most cases, landlords receive slightly more than market rates in rental payments. Sounds like a win for renters and landlords, right? Not according to a few landlords determined to skirt the law.

Some Landlords Continue to Discriminate

The San Francisco Police Code (Section 3304) prohibits discrimination in housing transactions because of a person’s actual or perceived race, color, ancestry, national origin, place of birth, sex, age, religion, creed, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, weight, height or source of income. Yet, some may landlords continue to blatantly deny Section 8 voucher holders access to their rental processes. Landlords might even state, “No Section 8” in a print or online advertisement. This is against the law.

How to Identify Discrimination

If you have been denied the chance to even view a rental in San Francisco after revealing you are a Section 8 voucher holder, there could be a discriminatory situation in play. The landlord (or their representatives) is misinformed if they believe your inquiry does not merit a review of the property and your application to become a tenant just like anybody else.

If you are deflected, ignored, rejected or directed to an agency for “people in your position,” you might want to investigate further. You may be in a position to charge a landlord with discrimination in San Francisco.

Rental Ads – Read Between the Lines

Most experienced landlords know better than to specify “No Section 8” in San Francisco rental property advertising.  If they don’t, they are risking a lawsuit. If an ad you see online, in a newspaper or on a phone app for a San Francisco rental uses this exclusionary language, this advertiser could be breaking the law.

Rules protecting tenants in San Francisco may not apply to nearby cities, counties or states. A “No Section 8” statement in a rental ad may be permissible in other places. If you feel you’re being denied access to a potential rental property due to your Section 8 voucher status, check your location before seeking help to file a complaint.

Section 8 Voucher Holders Should Seek Advice

If you have a Section 8 voucher, protect it. Nationwide many Section 8 waiting lists are either years long or closed. Affordable rental housing programs are slipping from the grasp of potentially qualified individuals. You are not the only renter struggling after the economic and social disruptions of Covid-19.

If you have a voucher, use the power the law grants you to get the housing you want and can afford with rental assistance. Seek a knowledgeable tenant attorney, challenge discriminatory landlords and demand your legal right to seek housing without source of income barriers. The law is on your side.

Know Your Rights. Protect Yourself.

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Mary Catherine Wiederhold

Real Estate Attorney
1458 Sutter Street
San Francisco, CA 94109

Mary Catherine Wiederhold
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