Council to expand Income Source Discrimination law

Renton City Council is taking steps to expand the protections of the Income Source Discrimination law.

City officials are working to include other housing subsidy programs and define sources of income in the ordinance.

The ordinance was passed November 2016 after apartment complexes across the city sent letters to Section 8 renters asking them to vacate their apartment units. Last year the council voted to remove the expiration date of the ordinance and asked city staff for direction on how to broaden the ordinance language to protect additional forms of income discrimination.

The original ordinance prohibited property owners and managers from discriminating against tenants or potential tenants based on their participation in the Section 8 housing program.

It also established penalties for violating the ordinance, including fines of $1,000 for the first violation, $2,500 for the second within a two-year period and making a third violation in the same period a gross misdemeanor punishable by a jail sentence of 364 days and up to a $5,000 fine and restitution.

Currently, the ordinance only protects Section 8 renters, but not other forms of income discrimination like social security benefits, unemployment benefits, retirement programs, child support, etc.

Upon the request of the council, city staff broadened the scope of the ordinance to protect tenants with alternative sources of income, and also give the same benefits Section 8 voucher holders to all other housing subsidy programs that provide payment to the landlord to a direct arrangement.

City staff presented council two options to consider. The first option would “prohibit discrimination against individuals participating in other local state or federal housing subsidy programs, or gaining income through verifiable sources other than wages regardless of the duration of such benefits/income,” according to a memo. The second option would allow the landlord to “exclude benefits or sources of income that have a known sunset date occurring within the lease term.”

“The difference between those two options is that a landlord can have the discretion to exclude the alternative sources of income or housing subsidies that have a known sunset date occurring within the lease term,” said Senior Planner Paul Hintz.

This means if a landlord requires a one year lease and a potential tenant has a housing subsidy that expires in six months, the landlord can choose to disregard the subsidy expiration or not.

“Ultimately city staff recommended option two to be of the landlord’s discretion because we think it’s fair,” Hintz said. “It’s a reasonable concern for the landlord to be worried about a prospective tenant’s, to continue to afford the dwelling unit if they know the income source or the subsidy is going to expire within the lease term.”

The regulations do not prohibit landlords from applying income screening criteria, however they are required to subtract subsidy amounts from the total amount of monthly rent and include all sources of income when calculating an applicant’s income.

“I am proud that our council continues to promote policies that are inclusive for all,” said Council Member Ed Prince in an email. “In the current housing climate we have to be mindful to look out for people on the lower end of the economic ladder. Expanding source of income discrimination is a step in the right direction.”

A Committee of the Whole report for the staff-recommended option was signed during Monday’s meeting. Council members will vote on the new changes during a council meeting at a later date.

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