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AG Herring highlights new housing discrimination protections

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Attorney General Mark Herring is highlighting new housing discrimination protections for Virginians that include source of income as a protected class under the Virginia Fair Housing Law.

Because of legislation sponsored by Del. Jeffrey M. Bourne, it is now unlawful in Virginia for housing providers to discriminate against someone because of their source of income. These new protections ensure that all Virginians seeking housing – including those who use housing choice vouchers or receive other governmental assistance – will have a fair chance to qualify for a home of their choice.

Additionally, as of Friday, April 16, Guidance from the Virginia Real Estate Board will go into effect that provides technical assistance to assure maximum compliance with the new laws.

Herring’s Office of Civil Rights helped the Virginia Real Estate Board draft this guidance.

“Every Virginian has a right to a safe place to call home, but for far too long, low-income individuals faced unnecessary barriers to safe, affordable housing simply because they have some assistance to pay their rent,” Herring said. “I am proud to have advocated for these important protections in Virginia’s fair housing laws and I’m pleased that this new guidance will help address some of the most common questions both tenants and landlords may have. Virginians should never fear being discriminated against when they try and get housing for themselves and their families because of their source of income. If you can pay the rent, you deserve a chance to qualify.”

“Virginians seeking affordable housing should not be discriminated against simply because of their income level. That’s why I was proud to pass a law in Virginia last year that bans discrimination in housing simply because of the source of someone’s funds,” said Bourne, sponsor of HB6, which bans income discrimination. “This legislation is an important part of ensuring that our Commonwealth is affordable for all.”

“Discrimination against voucher holders is one of the most pernicious ongoing obstacles that prevents us from collectively achieving the promise of fair housing laws,” said Kate Scott, executive director of the Equal Rights Center, a national advocacy organization dedicated to eliminating discrimination in all forms. “We applaud the Real Estate Board for issuing this important new guidance—it provides clarity about recently passed protections which will in turn make it easier for landlords to comply with their obligations and for consumers to understand their rights under Virginia law.”

Virginia law defines “source of funds” broadly as any source that lawfully provides funds to or on behalf of a renter or buyer of housing, including any assistance, benefit, or subsidy program, whether such program is administered by a governmental or nongovernmental entity. Lawful sources of funds include social security insurance, disability benefits, child support, and all forms of government housing assistance. Most properties and housing transactions are covered by these new protections, although there are some exceptions for smaller scale landlords or when a housing authority causes too long of a delay in a safety inspection.

Conduct that likely violates these fair housing protections include:

  • Charging higher rents, deposits, or other fees based on someone’s source of income
  • Refusing to rent, sell, or otherwise deny housing based on use of legal sources of income
  • Listings or advertisements that use phrases such as “No Section 8/No DSS/No SSI”
  • Refusing to include a household member’s social security income when calculating eligibility for an apartment
  • Steering a potential tenant to less desirable apartments upon learning that the tenant intends to pay with a rental assistance voucher
  • Insisting that a potential tenant provide proof of employment in order to apply for an apartment

The guidance issued by the Virginia Real Estate Board is a user-friendly document that discusses what actions and inaction by housing providers may constitute unlawful discrimination under the Virginia Fair Housing Law. It makes clear that landlords can still ask about income, and that they should apply income-qualifying criteria in a non-discriminatory manner.

Herring’s Office of Civil Rights prosecutes instances of housing discrimination, including new protections against LGBTQ discrimination in renting or selling housing, and violations of Virginia’s new ban on “income discrimination.”

Herring’s office, in conjunction with the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation, has pursued approximately 65 cases of housing discrimination, securing more than $610,000 in compensation for victims during his time as attorney general.

If you have a housing discrimination complaint, reach out to:

Office of Civil Rights

Virginia Fair Housing Office

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