Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is asking the City Council to extend civil-rights protections to people paying rent with government subsidies and other alternative sources of income.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray wants the City Council to extend civil-rights protections to people paying rent with government subsidies and other non-wage sources of income.
The mayor sent the council a proposed ordinance Tuesday that would make it illegal for landlords in the city to discriminate against tenants and prospective tenants based on their use of subsidies or other alternative but lawful sources of income.
Seattle already prohibits discrimination against people using federal Section 8 housing vouchers. The new ordinance would extend various protections to people using other verifiable non-wage sources of income, such as Social Security benefits, veteran’s benefits and child-support payments, according to Murray.
The ordinance also would cover people using rapid-rehousing rental assistance to move out of homelessness and people using subsidies to stave off eviction, he said.
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“For Seattle to become more affordable, we must reduce the barriers that our most vulnerable residents face finding a home to rent,” the mayor said in a news release.
Specifically, the ordinance would bar landlords from denying a rental application solely because an application uses a subsidy or another alternative source of income.
It would forbid landlords from evicting, harassing or retaliating against a tenant for using an alternative source of income.
The ordinance also would prohibit landlords from using advertisements that state a preference on income, and it would set rules for how landlords should calculate alternative sources of income when using rent-to-income ratios in screening prospective tenants.
Merf Ehman, a staff attorney at Columbia Legal Services, said the new ordinance is needed because people using non-wage sources of income are being treated unfairly by some landlords in Seattle.
“We recently represented a client whose landlord gave notice to all the tenants in the building that rental subsidies would no longer be accepted,” Ehman said in the release.
“We also saw an admissions policy where a landlord will not accept tenants with protected income like retirement or disability benefits,” she added, referring to a policy requiring tenants to have garnishable income. “Landlords should not be able to discriminate against people just because they are retired, disabled or utilize a subsidy.”
Extending civil-rights protections to renters using alternative sources of income was one of 65 recommendations made last year by the mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory (HALA) Committee.
The Rental Housing Association of Washington (RHAWA), which had a representative on the HALA Committee, has yet to take a position on the proposed ordinance, spokesman Sean Martin said.
Enforcing civil-rights protections for renters can be difficult in Washington state because landlords rarely explain their reasons for rejecting a prospective tenant, said Yurij Rudensky, also a staff attorney at Columbia Legal Services, which wants the council to pair Murray’s ordinance with more funding for enforcement.
Also on Tuesday, the Seattle Office of Civil Rights (SOCR) released new guidelines for landlords with preferred-employer programs.
Some landlords in Seattle offer discounts on deposits and other move-in fees to prospective tenants who work for certain companies, such as Microsoft.
Such discounts “may perpetuate existing racial, gender and other social inequities,” according to the news release from Murray and the SOCR.
The guidelines say preferred-employer programs can constitute discrimination if they are shown to disparately impact one or more groups covered by civil-rights protections.
“We will look at complaints about preferred-employer programs on a case-by-case basis,” SOCR Director Patricia Lally said in the release. “Some programs may be legal. Others may cross the line.”
Martin said the RHAWA’s members — mostly landlords of buildings with 10 apartments or fewer — have not used preferred-employer programs.