Enforcing Housing Discrimination Laws Falls Largely on Tenants, Nonprofits

With few enforcement mechanisms even in cities that have bans on source-of-income discrimination on the books, it’s up to nonprofit lawyers and tenants to sue landlords for retribution.

2 minute read

May 31, 2023, 10:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

San Francisco Apartments

Francesca Cappa / Flickr

Housing and disability rights advocacy groups around the country are suing cities to spur enforcement of housing discrimination laws, which many have on the books but rarely enforce, writes Roshan Abraham for Next City. According to one estimate by Aaron Carr, founder and executive director of the national housing watchdog Housing Rights Initiative (HRI), roughly half of landlords and housing brokers tend to turn down Section 8 vouchers.

In Los Angeles, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) sued the city on behalf of one resident who was discriminated against based on his Section 8 vouchers, with positive results for himself and for other tenants. “The lawsuit reached settlements with two of the defendants in April, both owners of multi-family apartments in LA. The owners agreed to provide fair housing training for staff, state in advertisements that they accept Section 8, and report data on Section 8 applications and acceptance to DREDF. Defendants will also pay $35,000 to Gardner.”

For Gardner, the lawsuit was a last resort after government avenues failed to help him. The city’s law against source-of-income discrimination “doesn’t implement any fines or fees for landlords or lay out penalties; rather, it shifts enforcement to civil court, allowing tenants to recoup damages equal to three months rent or three times the ‘actual damages,’ whichever is higher”—putting the responsibility for enforcement, essentially, on the tenants.

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