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Landlord Loophole Allows Housing Discrimination in WA

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 By Chris Thomas/Eric Mack, Contact
March 12, 2007

Most folks in Washington probably assume that if they can pay their rent, a landlord will consider their application. But that's not necessarily so. Landlords can refuse to rent to people receiving Section 8 housing vouchers or any other type of public assistance. A bill to change that has passed in the House. It would make housing discrimination against public assistance recipients illegal, with fines of up to $2,500. However, there's a modified version of the bill pending in the Senate, and Michele Thomas of the Tenants' Union of Washington says it's a poor substitute.

"If the Senate version were to be passed, it would just create a bill that's just purely symbolic, saying 'Landlords, we don't think you should discriminate,' but has no penalties and no teeth."

The Senate bill also covers only Section 8 recipients, and doesn't address other types of government assistance. Opponents of changing the law say landlords should be able to select their renters based on any criteria they want. Fair housing advocates say Washington's high home prices and tight rental market make anti-discrimination protection even more critical for low-income families, senior citizens, and people with disabilities.

Thomas says lawmakers, many of whom are also landlords, have an opportunity to close a loophole that makes it harder for poor people to find housing.

"Making it illegal to discriminate is incredibly important in changing people's practices. It may not change their heart, but it will change their practice, because people do not want to get involved with a discrimination lawsuit."

The legislation is HB 1956, sponsored by Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-37th Dist.), which passed in the House on Friday afternoon, and SB 5823, sponsored by Sen. Darlene Fairley (D-32nd Dist.)

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