Rob was elated to receive a Santa Monica Section 8 voucher after a long, three-year wait. He has worked full-time at Santa Monica restaurants for many years, but has never been able to find a permanent home here.
Instead, he has couch-surfed at friends’ homes, stayed in a relative’s studio apartment, and even slept in his car. Rob hoped that the voucher meant his long struggle with housing insecurity was ending.
Rob found a one-bedroom apartment where the advertised rent was an amount that he could afford with the help of his voucher, but he immediately hit a snag. The property manager told Rob that they would accept his voucher, but only if he could show proof of income equal to three times the amount of the rent. If Rob had that much income, he wouldn’t need a housing voucher and wouldn’t qualify for one. The property manager also first told Rob that a credit score of at least 600 was required to rent the unit, but changed it to 700-plus when they learned about the voucher.
The property manager was right to agree to accept the voucher – doing so is mandated under both local and state law – but requiring income equal to three times the amount of the rent and requiring a higher credit score than for other tenants both were discriminatory and violated fair housing laws.
Rob contacted the Public Rights Division of the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office’s for help. The City Attorney’s Office contacted the property manager, and they agreed to revise the policy. Going forward, the property manager would require all prospective tenants to show proof of income equal to three times the amount of their share of the rent, meaning that Rob, like others whose Section 8 vouchers cover most of their rent, could rent despite their lower incomes. The revised policy ensured that the landlord could find qualified renters, and tenants would find housing, without facing discrimination based on their source of income. The property manager also agreed to rely on a single credit-score requirement for all applicants for each unit.
The Section 8 program is funded by the federal government and administered by city and county housing authorities, which distribute vouchers to lower-income renters. Tenants pay around 30 percent of their income to the landlord and the voucher covers the rest of the rent. Although Rob hit a roadblock when trying to rent his Santa Monica apartment, we have come a long way when it comes to sheltering those who experience housing insecurity. For many years, landlords routinely included the words “No Section 8” in their rental ads. Now doing so is against the law.
Santa Monica led the way in passing a source-of-income discrimination law in 2015, and California followed in 2019. Landlords now cannot refuse tenants based on any lawful source of income, including vouchers. Landlords also cannot refuse third-party rent payments, so long as the person or organization paying the rent affirms that the rent payment does not establish a tenancy.
Housing vouchers are integral in providing safe housing for all residents, regardless of income. They benefit both landlords and tenants. If you encounter any kind of discrimination when applying for a rental unit in Santa Monica, please call the Public Rights Division at 310-458-8336.