Santa Monica Lookout
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Santa Monica Seeks to Codify Ban on Income Discrimination

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

May 5, 2015-- Despite a provision in state law that prohibits it, housing discrimination based on a potential renter's income continues to take place in Santa Monica, City officials said.

On Tuesday, the City Council plans to tackle the issue when it considers a new ordinance banning the alleged practice and setting civil damages as high as $10,000.

“Council has received complaints that some local landlords will not rent units to tenants who receive housing assistance in the form of Section 8 vouchers,” staff wrote in a report accompanying the ordinance. “Housing Division personnel have noted that tenants receiving Section 8 vouchers often cannot find housing within the City.”

As well as amending the City's Housing Anti-Discrimination law, the ordinance allows judges to award civil damages as high as $10,000 in serious cases and impose injunctions -- court orders that immediately put an end to the discrimination.

It will “close a hole that exists because state law also prohibits source-of-income discrimination, but it is not clear that Section 8 would qualify as income, so the City wanted to make that clear,” said Adam Radinsky, chief deputy city attorney for the consumer protection division.

Rosario Perry of the Action Apartment Association, which represents Santa Monica apartment owners, said landlords are not discriminating against Section 8 renters. Instead, he said, some landlords have been wary about entering into contracts with the City.

“Nobody's discriminating against poor people based on source of income. That's malarky,” Perry said. “This is what the City does to befuddle the population. That doesn't happen.

“What's happening is that nobody in their right mind wants to deal with the City of Santa Monica,” Perry said. “They're bureaucratic, unresponsive, unreasonable.”

Local Section 8 landlords are overburdened by unnecessary City building inspections and other red tape Perry said, as well as years of  “flat” rents that lag well behind cost of living increases.

“Landlords know, if you're going to do a Section 8 contract you're going to have to deal with Santa Monica City government, because they decided, in their wisdom, to monitor the program,” said Perry.

“The problem is that once you make a contract with the City it's like making a contract with the devil.”

Council members will hear from the public at a hearing Tuesday before a first reading of the ordinance, which Radinsky says amends City code by adding income source to the traditional list of housing discrimination protections such as age, race and gender, but it “does not compel landlords to enter into any particular contract.”

But Perry predicted housing providers will end up being seriously harmed by the ordinance.

“Now what they're going to do is they're going to prosecute housing providers because they refuse to sign a contract with the City,” he said. “I'm sure that there will be some housing providers who don't have the money, the energy or the resources to fight the City who will have to cow-tow to the City and all the crap that goes with it.”

Proving in court that a landlord willfully discriminated based on a potential renter's source of income could be “challenging,” Radinsky admitted.

“If, however, you have candidates who are equally or better qualified in every other respect who are denied the opportunity, a discrimination case can be proven,” said Radinsky.

Perry said the landlord's association planned to respond “and help its members.”

“Obviously there will be a lawsuit,” he said.

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