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Va. Landlords Can No Longer Turn Away Renters With Vouchers

Row of townhouses
A new Virginia law will prevent renters from discriminating based on a potential tenant's income source. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

New housing discrimination protections ban Virginia landlords from turning down potential tenants because of their source of income. Attorney General Mark Herring issued guidance Friday to help tenants and landlords navigate the new rules.

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The law ensures that Virginians who are looking for a place to live – including those who use Housing Choice Vouchers ( formerly Section 8), Social Security Disability payments or other assistance – will have more options to live where they choose.

In particular, many landlords in Virginia previously declined applicants who used Housing Choice Vouchers. The program allows tenants, who might otherwise be placed in public housing, to choose from a wider range of housing and neighborhoods.

The organization Housing Opportunities Made Equal did a study in 2019 to see how widespread the problem was. President and CEO Heather Crislip said for about a month they surveyed apartment listings to gauge the rate of voucher acceptance. In Henrico County about 16% of units accepted vouchers. In Richmond, it was 18% and in Chesterfield, it was 33%.

“That really constrained voucher holders and where they could move and really limited the effectiveness of the voucher program in deconcentrating poverty,” Crislip said.

Last year, the General Assembly added discrimination on the basis of one’s lawful source of funds to the Virginia Fair Housing Act.  It also added sexual orientation, gender identity, and status as a veteran.

Between July 1 and December 31, Crislip said HOME received roughly 30 complaints from across the state of people who had been turned away because of their source of income even though the new laws were in place.

She said many landlords just need to be educated.

Herring’s latest guidance will help with that process. It clarifies that landlords are still allowed to verify an applicant’s income as well as their ability to afford the portion of the rent they will be paying out of pocket.

It increases overall housing stability, which Herring said is good for the whole community.

“This is really important because it can help reduce concentrated poverty, de facto segregation and it’ll also help give people opportunities to live where they work and where they choose,” Herring said.

The law will most significantly impact rental properties, but it also applies to home sales.

“The important thing there is the source of the funds,” Herring said. “If it is housing assistance or disability payments or VA benefits, things like that, those are not going to be reasons to deny someone the ability to get a mortgage and buy a house.”    

April is National Fair Housing Month, which celebrates the 1968 passage of the federal Fair Housing Act.  The Act prohibits housing discrimination because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and family status.

Virginia enacted its own Fair Housing laws four years later.

The new guidance on the latest protections can be found here

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.