Federal law has no requirement for landlords to accept housing choice vouchers from potential tenants who receive rental assistance. This allows landlords to legally refuse to rent to those holding the vouchers. However, in 2018 this policy changed in the county of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the state’s largest metropolitan area.
With the passing of a proposal, rental assistance recipients in Milwaukee County are considered a protected class. The legislation related to fair housing banned landlords from refusing to rent to persons who are part of housing or rental assistance programs.
Finding a Balance Between Landlord and Tenant Rights
County Board Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic introduced the proposal. It made illegal the practice of landlords refusal to renting properties to persons solely because they are receiving Section 8 Housing Vouchers.
Supporters of the plan believed that denying housing to persons who must rely on government rental assistance is discriminatory. However, landlords and others who were opposed to the bill worry about its potential negative effects on their business if they are forced to rent to persons with other issues.
Dimitrijevic said that in light of the challenges the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County faces in regards to housing, racism, segregation, high evictions and a deficit in quality, affordable housing, there had to be a change.
Creating a New Protected Class
Unfortunately, race was often suspected as playing a role. While groups such as veterans and older adults often received housing or rental assistance, many belonged to non-white races as well.
The new amendment made the entire group of people receiving housing or rental assistance a protected class. This verbiage was added to Milwaukee County’s existing ordinances about fair housing.
The goal of County Board Supervisor Dimitrijevic was to move the city toward a more inclusive model to present increased opportunities to challenged residents for economic mobility.
Some feel the problem goes beyond segregation in housing practices, including the president of the Apartment Association of Southeast Wisconsin. The group pointed out there can be numerous reasons landlords don’t accept housing vouchers.
Tenant Screening Key to Making Effective Rental Decisions
While not opposed to the proposal, the Apartment Association of Southeast Wisconsin understands why some landlords are hesitant. There could be other reasons, such as the verbiage in the rental assistance contract and the landlord’s own lease terms being in opposition.
Landlords want the ideal tenant for every vacancy. Many use tenant screening to look for issues like evictions, credit problems and a criminal past. They should still have the right to refuse tenancy to persons showing problems in these important screening areas.
Despite differing views, Milwaukee County continues to strive for fair housing solutions that benefit everyone.