By Richard Halstead, Marin Independent Journal
Thursday, November 10, 2016
Landlords renting property in unincorporated Marin are now prohibited from discriminating against people using Section 8 housing vouchers and other third-party housing subsidies.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted unanimously to adopt a “fair housing” ordinance after conducting a second reading and public hearing on the new law.
“I think it is important to remember that this ordinance does not require landlords to rent to Section 8 (voucher holders),” said Supervisor Judy Arnold. “It requires landlords to consider their applications. Landlords can still screen those applicants as they would any other applicant and if appropriate deny them accordingly.”
Supervisor Steve Kinsey said, “It’s not a ticket to ride; it’s a ticket to be considered for a ride.”
A number of people spoke out in support of the ordinance during Tuesday’s public hearing; two landlords voiced their objections.
Wally Graham said, “I don’t accept Section 8 vouchers for a very good reason. When the tenant destroys my property, I get a letter from the Section 8 people saying we won’t pay your rent unless you take care of the damage done by the Section 8 tenant.”
Graham, who owns 21 units in Marin and Napa counties, said he is a lawyer who used to represent landlords.
“I can’t tell you how many lawsuits I ran into because a Section 8 tenant destroyed my client’s property,” Graham said.
Graham noted that violators of the “fair housing” ordinance are subject to triple and punitive damages.
“If you pass this legislation, you’re setting all of us (landlords) up as targets,” he said.
Another landlord, Barry Joseph of Mill Valley, said, “If you approve this thing, you’re taking something that is supposed to be a partnership and turning it into a dictatorship.”
But Rick Sheviakov of San Anselmo, a landlord since 1980, said, “I totally support this. It doesn’t take anything away from me. I can still screen on whatever basis I want. Screening is the key for finding good tenants.
“Our longest tenant and our best tenant is a Section 8 tenant. I wouldn’t kick her out for anything,” Sheviakov said.
Wade Flores, who said he is living with AIDS, said when he was evicted from his apartment in January, he experienced discrimination because he uses a Section 8 voucher.
“I had references going years and years back that I was a good tenant,” Flores said. “But because I was on Section 8, I was told, no we won’t rent to you. I was one day from being homeless. You need to fix this problem.”
Speaking on behalf of the Marin Organizing Committee, a group of nonprofits and religious organizations that created Marin’s winter shelter program for the homeless, Tom Gable, pastor of Marin Lutheran Church in Corte Madera, voiced support for the “fair housing” ordinance.
“Marin has precious few affordable homes for seniors, the disabled, and individuals and families of low income,” Gable said. “We certainly can’t afford to mark hundreds if not thousands of units off limits to those who desperately need them.
“This ordinance is fair to renters and landlords,” Gable said. “Nothing in the ordinance prohibits landlords from verifying the rental history and references of every applicant.”
Supervisor Damon Connolly said, “The vast majority of calls we get from those on the verge of losing their housing in this community are from seniors, veterans and the disabled. Those are the folks who are most directly impacted by the Section 8 program.”
Connolly acknowledged that many Marin landlords fear that Section 8 tenants will damage their property.
“That’s precisely why in the landlord partnership program we have a damage risk pool so that if such damage does occur it will be covered,” Connolly said. “You have to look at this legislation in tandem with our landlord partnership program.”
Marin supervisors allocated $450,000 to a new program in July that aims to make landlord participation in the Section 8 program more attractive.
The bulk of the money allocated for the landlord incentive program, about $400,000, will be used to create a loss mitigation fund to compensate landlords if their property is damaged by low-income tenants.
As part of the program, the Marin Housing Authority, which oversees the Section 8 program, has also established a 24-hour hotline that landlords can use to get help with problem Section 8 tenants.
Since the launch of the program, 19 additional Marin landlords have begun renting to Section 8 tenants, and nine landlords have received money from the risk pool to cover damaged property, said Leelee Thomas, a principal planner with the county’s Community Development Agency.
Supervisor Katie Rice said, “I don’t see this as a burden on the landlord community; I see this as the right thing to do both practically and symbolically.”
Supervisor Kate Sears said, “To me, this is what our county is about.”