Another Assault on Virginia Landlords

HUD listening session soliciting input from landlords.

by James A. Bacon

The Office of the Attorney General has filed lawsuits accusing 13 Richmond-area real estate companies of discriminating against prospective renters who receive federal housing vouchers.

“Every single Virginian has the right to a safe, comfortable home, regardless of whether they have some assistance paying their rent,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “Blocking Virginians who would use a [voucher] to pay their rent is outright housing discrimination and will not be tolerated in Virginia.”

Housing vouchers allow recipients to escape public housing projects and move freely in the private rental market. But participation in the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD program is voluntary, and many landlords opt out. Herring views such behavior as a form of housing “discrimination,” a way to screen out potentially undesirable tenants, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. While federal law does not prohibit discrimination based on the source of income, the practice may violate a state anti-discrimination law enacted in 2020. These lawsuits put the Virginia law to the test.

What could go wrong?

Herring collaborated with a nonprofit group, the Housing Rights Initiative, which conducted calls to 29 real estate companies. Callers posed as prospective tenants. In recorded calls, the companies told the callers they don’t accept voucher holders.

“We hope our investigation, this lawsuit, Virginia’s anti-discrimination laws, and our partnership with the Attorney General’s office serves as a housing enforcement model for the rest of the country,” said Arron Carr, executive director of the Housing Rights Initiative.

The challenge of persuading landlords to participate in the voucher program is national in scope. Indeed, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reports that between 2009 and 2016, the number of landlords enrolled in the program nationally has declined from 775,000 to 695,000.

That should be a tip-off that something ain’t right.

Think about it. Landlords should prefer renting to voucher recipients — Uncle Sam stands behind two-thirds of the average the rent check. Tenants pay up to 30% of their income, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) pays the balance. In 2017 the HUD housing voucher program assisted 2.2 million households with an average subsidy of $753 per month and an average family contribution of $370 per month.

Reasons for the declining interest in the program remain a mystery to HUD, whose Office of Policy Development and Research acknowledges in a 2019 report, “Little research exists on the role of landlords in the HCV program, limiting stakeholders’ understanding of how landlords decide to participate in the program and how they interact with and treat voucher holders.”

The limited research available suggests that a number of factors could come into play. One is the risk that tenants might fail to pay their share of the rent. Another factor is the unwillingness to put up with the rules and regulations.

Negative experiences … typically involve some combination of frustration with the bureaucratic elements of the program, costs associated with inspections, and conflicts with tenants that were difficult to address because of the constraints related to the program. Landlords might be uncertain about which responsibilities toward tenants belong to them and which belong to the [Public Housing Agencies], and they may expect to be more involved than they are obligated to be.

In other words, many landlords may conclude that public housing tenants are lousy tenants and not worth the hassle.

HUD has pursued a variety of strategies to increase landlord participation, such as landlord-outreach programs, tax incentives and hotlines where landlords can get answers. In the Richmond/Petersburg metro, the Communities of Opportunity Program issues tax credits to landlords in low-poverty areas. Programs in other states pay holding fees, rental application fees, vacancy loss claims, and damage claims.

It’s a sad day when federal law is more accommodating of marketplace realities than Virginia state law. But Democrats in the General Assembly are highly receptive to the blandishments of social-justice advocates who think that complex economic and social issues can be fixed by legislative fiat. Unintended consequences are inevitable. The prosecution of Virginia landlords may encourage some to sign up for the voucher program, but it may drive others out of the rental marketplace. The supply of affordable housing is tight. It could get tighter.

As an alternative to filing lawsuits, Herring could consider looking for ways to make participation in the voucher program more attractive to landlords. But that’s not his style. Some people seem to prefer wielding the stick to offering a carrot.

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7 responses to “Another Assault on Virginia Landlords”

  1. AG Herring is combining the Humpty Dumpty view on language with progressive Newspeak.

    In Alice in Wonderland, Alice has a conversation with Humpty Dumpty, during which the following exchange takes place:

    “‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    “‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    “”The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be the master — that’s all.’”

    AG Herring adopts Humpty Dumpty’s perspective on the meaning of words, applies it to a progressive notion of discrimination, and dispenses with any need to address or consider the voluntary nature of participation in the voucher program.

    What better way to turn a voluntary program into a compulsory one by invoking linguistic legerdemain and verbal prestidigitation?

    AG Herring is just “re-imagining” what the voluntary HUD program means from a progressive perspective. Just think what Herring can do to “re-imagine” other words and programs if he is re-elected in 2021!

  2. Super Brain Avatar
    Super Brain

    Most housing authorities have a closed waiting list for vouchers because tha demand exceeds supply. The HCV program is limited. I many cities landlords tell the tenants to forget their share since the HAP payment is prized due to its timely arrival.
    Used rental trailers are purchased in SWVA to put in the program. Owners get a HAP for the trailer and the pad. The cost can be recovered -6-8 years.
    One of of the accused developments is financed by Va Housing (VHDA). They are most likely out of compliance with the financing agreement. A special kind of heck could rain down upon that deal.

  3. how_it_works Avatar

    So glad I sold my rental property. I put the money into dividend stocks and now I’m making almost as much on dividends as I was making on rent (if the tenants didn’t break/destroy anything)…

  4. I do not think Mr. Herring understands what “voluntary” means.


    Also: Every single Virginian has the right to a safe, comfortable home…

    I disagree. Every single Virginian has the right to pursue by legal means a safe and comfortable home, but they do not have a right to the thing itself.

    It’s quite simple: If something requires that another person perform some action for your benefit then that something is not a right.

    1. Matt Adams Avatar
      Matt Adams

      Especially if they signed a “contract” with another individual to compensate them to occupy property said other individuals property.

  5. tmtfairfax Avatar

    I wouldn’t hire Herring to maintain our files. He is a piss-poor attorney. Owners of property, including rental property, are not required to rent the same. It’s like Obamacare when the Supreme Court held that the government cannot force people to engage in commerce. Now if a person voluntarily sells a house or rents it, that person cannot engage in discrimination based on race, sex, national origin in selling or renting. But that’s not at issue here. Likewise, if a landlord accepts Title 8 vouchers, the landlord cannot discriminate based on race, etc. But that’s not at issue here.

    North Carolina looks better every day.

  6. Merchantseamen Avatar

    Hmmm….”the right to a safe, comfortable home” is not a right. They pull this crap out of thin air. Unbelievable.

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