Good news! Senate Bill 175, Fair Housing Act Option Amendments has been released and is ready for a committee hearing next week. This bill eliminates the law in Utah that requires landlords to work with section 8 housing and that made it a discriminatory practice to deny tenants on section 8. The bill eliminates section 8 as a protected class and refusing to participate in section 8 would no longer be a discriminatory practice.
WARNING: Groups that want government to force landlords to accept section 8 will try to say this is bad for Utah and eliminates housing choices for low income renters. We believe the opposite is true.
Reasons to Support Legislation Allowing Landlords to Opt Out of Section 8 Housing Program
Senate Bill 175 Fair Housing Act Option Amendments
Housing affordability is a very important issue in Utah. The federal Section 8 voucher program is a valuable tool. Years ago, the legislature, in good faith, became one of only 9 states that require landlords to accept Section 8 housing and make it a discriminatory practice for landlords to deny tenants solely on the basis that they received Section 8 vouchers. This led to unintentional consequences and made affordable housing stock less available. SB 175 attempts to add market forces to help open up more affordable housing options.
Landlords love Section 8 tenants. However, they loathe working with some housing authorities, the local agencies that administer Section 8, and they hate the extra cost and burden that accompany the program. Examples include:
- The government used to guarantee rent and condition of unit. Because it was so costly to repair damage done by Section 8 tenants, this burden has been transferred to landlords to pay for any damages done
- Landlords who participate are told how long their lease must be and cannot sign leases shorter than a year
- Initial inspections take as long as ten days, making landlords who work with Section 8 lose rental income
- Section 8 rules supersede rental agreements. Landlords are prohibited from evicting Section 8 tenants for criminal behavior of guests or if a housing authority is late or doesn’t pay rent. They must give longer notice of inspections, rent increases and end of term notices. It is harder to remove Section 8 than regular tenants
- Some local housing authorities are difficult to work with and take up to 60 days to make payments
- The program increases landlord’s costs, time and alters business practices by giving Section 8 tenants a different (preferential) set of rules. This is not fair to other tenants and adds burden to landlords
Because of these and other costs, risks and burdens, there currently are incentives for landlords to legally and legitimately avoid renting to Section 8 tenants. They can set higher rental criteria or deposits to avoid renting to Section 8. They can make sure their places won’t pass housing inspections.
SB 175 removes the incentive to make renting to Section 8 recipients hard by putting market pressure on housing authorities to make their programs more user friendly and attractive to landlords. Allowing landlords to voluntarily participate will improve the Section 8 program and increase the number of units available for voucher recipients.
This is not discrimination
Laws will still prohibit discrimination against tenants because of race, color, sex, religion, country of origin, disability, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity and source of income. The only things SB 175 does is eliminate the requirement that landlords work with the federal Section 8 voucher program, and clarifies it will not be a discriminatory practice to deny tenants who on Section 8. Last year both Texas and Indiana passed similar laws as this and there has not been a crisis there. Allegations that minority and low income tenants will be discriminated against are unfounded and false, as 41 other states have the law being proposed and voucher recipients still find quality housing.
CONCLUSION: Doctors can opt out of the bureaucracy and strict rules of Medicare. Landlords should be able to opt out of a similar federal subsidy program and run their business the way they wish, not the way the feds require them to in order to qualify for Section 8 vouchers. Forced participation in a voluntary federal program is bad public policy, harms both landlords and tenants, and both groups will be better off if this law is passed and housing authorities and the federal government have to earn landlord’s participation.
By the numbers:
- Utah has just over 11,000 Section 8 vouchers,less than 4% of renter households
- Even if half of Utah’s 300,000 rental units opted out of Section 8 there would still be over ten times as many units available as are needed
- 41 states, including California, allow landlords to opt out of Section 8 and the program still works
We thank Senator Margaret Dayton from Orem who has the courage to run this bill. We will keep you posted.