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Legislation Prohibits Discrimination Against Tenants with Housing Vouchers, Disability Benefits

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by Michael Lyle, Nevada Current
April 5, 2023

It’s not uncommon for the ACLU of Nevada to receive complaints from tenants who say they were denied housing because they rely on housing vouchers, commonly known as Section 8, or other subsidies and income sources such as Social Security disability or child support payments.

Despite offering to pay rent in a stable and consistent manner, housing vouchers in particular have historically been subject to stigma resulting in some landlords refusing to rent to recipients. 

Speaking to lawmakers Monday, Athar Haseebullah, the executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, said when landlords can discriminate against tenants based on certain sources of income it not only exacerbates Nevada’s housing crisis but disproportionately affects communities of color. 

Assembly Bill 176, heard Monday in the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee, seeks to prohibit the practice. 

The legislation, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Cecelia González, would legally define a source of income to include federal, state and local governmental programs such as Section 8 housing vouchers, disability benefits or other rental assistance programs. 

“When voucher holders are denied an opportunity to rent near their places of work, near public transportation or in school zones their children can thrive, they are denied the opportunity to get ahead to the point where they no longer need housing assistance,” González said. “At the end of the day, that’s what AB 176 is about.”

Similar legislation was introduced by González in 2021, but the bill didn’t receive a hearing. 

As lawmakers this session contend with the housing crisis, which has persisted for years but intensified due to the pandemic, Haseebullah urged them to confront discrimination based on source of income. 

“We believe, based on widespread community support and everything we’ve read and heard, that if this committee doesn’t … move this forward and it doesn’t get passed into law, we are going to be back here two years from now with an even worse affordable housing crisis,,” Haseebullah said.

AB 176 would add “source of income” discrimination to Nevada’s Fair Housing Law, which already prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. 

The legislation would also prohibit landlords from advertising that listed properties won’t accept sources of income such as housing vouchers.    

The bill, Haseebullah said, wouldn’t prevent landlords from conducting background checks or setting income parameters for rental units. 

“With the passage of this bill, property owners and landlords will no longer be able to simply immediately deny housing to otherwise eligible tenants with valid secure income sources,” he said. 

The legislation, he added, is also narrow in its scope and “creates certain carve outs for actual mom and pop landlords.” 

Another provision of the bill would require landlords who denied a tenant a rental unit to provide a written notice that indicates the reason for refusal. 

Questioned by Democratic Assemblywoman Shea Backus, Haseebullah said a provision in state law requiring landlords to submit a written notice informing a tenant why they were denied appears to be unprecedented in state law. 

“We actually believe that would be a valuable thing, because for many applicants whose application fees have also been collected, those individuals haven’t received any other notice other than that there has been a denial,” he said. 

Republican Assemblyman Toby Yurek agreed that stigma plays a role in why people using housing vouchers are denied rental units. 

However, he questioned the legislation including other sources of income like child support payments because of risk factors of people not paying judgements. 

“I know there are a lot of fathers, it could be mothers as well, who don’t pay their child support obligations,” he said. “It would seem to me it would be appropriate to take all of that into consideration when calculating the risk for a potential tenant.”

Clark County, whose lobbyist testified in support of the bill Monday, passed an emergency ordinance in 2020 to prevent source of income discrimination. The ordinance expired with the end of the state’s declaration of pandemic emergency. 

The Nevada State Apartment Association and Nevada Realtors are opposed to the bill.

John Sande, a lobbyist with the Nevada State Apartment Association, worried the legislation would “remove valid ways to screen potential tenants.”

Groups including the Nevada Housing Coalition, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and Make the Road supported the bill.

The committee took no action on Monday. 

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: info@nevadacurrent.com. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.