San Rafael, CA – For more than 20 years, it has been illegal for most California landlords to use a minimum income standard in assessing eligibility for a rental applicant that is not based on the portion of the rent to be paid by the tenant, if the tenant has a government subsidy. In January 2020, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act was amended to make it illegal to discriminate against or exclude tenants and applicants because they have housing choice vouchers, or Section 8.
Despite these laws, some landlords continue to exclude Section 8 voucher holders, either by rejecting them for tenancy altogether, or using a minimum income requirement that is impossible for a voucher holder to meet.
Late yesterday, Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California (FHANC) and one of its clients, Ronda Brooks, filed a lawsuit in Sonoma County Superior Court alleging that AMFP Creekview LLC, Tilden-Lamplighter LLC, and FPI Management, Inc. have excluded voucher holders by using an illegal minimum income standard in at least two of their Sonoma County properties. This minimum income requirement has the effect of excluding tenants who have vouchers.
AMFP IV Creekview LLC is a Delaware company that holds title to the Lenox Apartments located in Rohnert Park, California; Tilden-Lamplighter LLC is a California company that holds title to the Parc Station apartment complex located in Santa Rosa, California. FPI Management, Inc. is a California corporation that manages both the Lenox Apartments and the Parc Station Apartments as well as rental properties in 18 states, including 654 rental properties in California.
In April 2020, FHANC sent informational brochures explaining the new changes to the law to 50 housing providers and property managers in the region, including FPI Management, Inc. The informational brochure explained that rejecting rental applicants because they hold a government voucher constitutes unlawful discrimination based on source of income. The brochure also reiterated that existing law, which has been in effect since 2000, provides that a landlord who uses a minimum income threshold for a voucher holder must calculate that threshold based on the amount of rent that will be paid by the tenant, rather than the entire rent amount.
Ms. Ronda Brooks is a recipient of a housing choice voucher, which is federally-funded rental assistance – through the Sonoma County Housing Authority. In June of 2020, Ms. Brooks found a listing for the Lenox Apartments on the website Zillow.com and thought that it might be a good fit for her needs. She drove by the apartments, liked what she saw, and called to inquire about a unit. When Ms. Brooks talked with the agent, she asked if they accepted housing choice vouchers. The agent at Lenox told Ms. Brooks that they accepted vouchers, but that Ms. Brooks would need to have an income of at least $5,000 per month, or roughly 2.5 times the rent. Ms. Brooks explained that if she had income in that amount, then she would not have qualified for a Housing Choice Voucher in the first place. The employee responded that the $5,000 minimum income requirement was the Lenox Apartments’ policy.
Based on Ms. Brooks’ allegation, FHANC conducted an investigation in September 2020, replicating the experience of Ms. Brooks. A FHANC employee contacted the Lenox Apartments and an agent for the building told him that they accept Section 8, but only if the applicant has an income of at least 2.5 times the rent, and that this income requirement would still apply, even with the voucher.
In December 2020, an employee of the Sonoma County Housing Authority contacted FHANC and reported that multiple voucher holders were rejected for tenancy by FPI Management, Inc. at the Parc Station Apartments because they did not meet the building’s minimum monthly income requirement of 2.5 times the monthly rent, regardless of the amount of rent the tenant would be responsible for paying using their voucher. In January 2021, a FHANC employee called the Parc Station Apartments, and the agent confirmed that they accept vouchers but still require that all applicants make a minimum of 2.5 times the monthly rent to qualify.
“Discriminating against people who have housing choice vouchers is illegal, pure and simple,” said Caroline Peattie, Executive Director of FHANC. “The law requiring that a landlord must base income requirements for a voucher holders on their portion of the rent has been in effect for 20 years. A huge management company like FPI should not have policies in place that fail to comply with existing fair housing laws, and they should ensure all their agents are properly trained on those laws. We even sent them information about this specific law, and yet FPI still has discriminatory policies in place. As a result, we’ve had to redouble our efforts to educate the community that discrimination against housing choice vouchers is illegal.”
“I really hope that this lawsuit makes all landlords understand the law and change their polices,” said Ms. Brooks. “I want people to understand how important the law is to ensure that voucher holders can find housing. If landlords can refuse to rent to Housing Choice Voucher holders, it makes it incredibly difficult for people like me to find housing.”
Ms. Brooks is represented by Liza Cristol-Deman of Brancart & Brancart.
Note: This material is based on work supported by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under FHIP PEI Grant FPEI190035. Any opinion, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of HUD.
Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California is a non-profit organization serving several Bay Area counties that provides free counseling, enforcement, mediation, and legal or administrative referrals to persons experiencing housing discrimination. Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California also offers foreclosure prevention counseling, pre-purchase education, seminars to help housing providers fully understand fair housing law, and education programs for tenants and the community at large. Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California is a HUD-Certified Housing Counseling Agency. Please call Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California at (415) 457-5025 or TDD: (800) 735-2922 for more information
By Melanie Nathan
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