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City Resolves 11 Section 8 Discrimination Complaints

Bob Kronovetrealty
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Santa Monica Convention and Visitors

By Jorge Casuso

February 6, 2019 -- City prosecutors announced Wednesday they have resolved eleven housing discrimination complaints filed by tenants who were turned down because they were using Section 8 vouchers.

The complaints were filed under a 2015 City law that prohibits landlords from refusing to rent to tenants based on their source of income ("New Santa Monica Law to Prohibit Discrimination Against Section 8 Tenants," May 8, 2015).

The City began actively enforcing the law last April after a lawsuit by the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA) was voluntarily dismissed on appeal, City officials said.

In each of the complaints, Santa Monica landlords told an applicant or existing tenant they would not accept Section 8 tenants or vouchers, officials from the City Attorneys office said.

“The law is serving well its purpose of bolstering affordable housing,” said Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades. “It has enabled the City to get private landlords to be part of the solution."

The City issues about 100 Section 8 vouchers a year and administers a total of some 1,400 vouchers, according to the City's Housing and Economic Development division.

Tenants approved under the Federal program pay 30 to 40 percent of their annual income toward rent. The voucher covers the rest of the rent.

The voucher holders whose complaints were resolved reflect the diversity of the tenant mix, Rhoades said.

One was a 61-year-old black woman who has lived in Santa Monica for 50 years and was "blocked from applying at a large apartment building" after being informed management did not accept Section 8.

The owner "liked the program so much that it rented to two more Section 8 tenants," Rhoades said.

Other tenants included a severely disabled man with traumatic brain injury; a low-income, single woman, and a 73-year old, "severely rent-burdened Latina," officials said.

One Santa Monica landlord served 90-Day Notices on three Section 8 tenants, stating he no longer wanted to participate in the program, Rhoades said.

In each of the cases, the City Attorneys Office sent the landlord a demand letter citing the new law, then worked with the City's Housing Division and the Legal Aid Foundation to "eventually persuade the owner to accept the voucher," City officials said.

Santa Monica's law was approved after local landlords "adopted blanket discrimination policies against Section 8, even for situations where the current rent was below what the owner would get," Rhoades said.

AAGLA challenged the ordinance, claiming it conflicted with California's Government Code, which defines a “source of income” as income paid “directly to a tenant or a representative of the tenant” and which overrides local law.

In January 2017 a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the City and the plaintiffs appealed, but the case was dismissed last year ("Landlords to Appeal in Santa Monica Legal Fight Over Section 8 Vouchers," February 6, 2017).

In addition to amending the housing anti-discrimination law, the ordinance gave judges the power to award civil damages as high as $10,000 and to impose injunctions or court orders that put an immediate end to the discrimination.

The local law does not require landlords to reduce rents, Rhoades said.

“The voucher program brings us all a win-win-win opportunity,” he said.

“The tenant gets safe, decent housing; the landlord gets steady income and tenant-relations help from the City; and the City frees up housing resources for the next person in need.”

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