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It’s now illegal in California for landlords to turn down housing vouchers

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But hundreds of Bay Area property owners are flouting the new law

Mid- and high-rise buildings with a blue sky as a backdrop in San Francisco. Shutterstock

As of 2020, it’s illegal in California for landlords to refuse to rent to tenants who rely on federal housing vouchers to put a roof over their heads. But it seems some Bay Area landlords didn’t get the message—or simply don’t care.

The San Jose Mercury-News found scores of rental ads marked with the dreaded “no Section 8” rider across various Bay Area markets, with violations particularly flagrant on Craigslist.

And yes, it’s true. In San Francisco, nine active ads ranging from $1,650 to $3,500 per month attempt to disqualify Section 8 housing vouchers. And in Oakland, there were 16. But in the wider East Bay, the number jumps to more than 200, with dozens more in the South Bay and the Peninsula.

Technically, Section 8 and similar vouchers help landlords, since it means that the federal government has essentially insured part of the rent payments every month. But often because of stigma attached to rental assistance, some property owners exclude such renters as a form of income discrimination.

Why are so many people still disregarding the statute? Well, it still being a new law, it’s possible that a lot of folks simply aren’t aware of it yet.

But both renters and landlords should know that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 329 in October, meaning that as of the beginning of this year the laws that prevent California property owners from discriminating against tenants for their source of income now also count federal housing vouchers.

LA-based State Sen. Holly Mitchell, the author of the bill, argued that the new law was necessary due to the volume of voucher rejections, citing a statistic that 70 percent of vouchers expired without being used.

Mitchell met resistance from groups like the California Apartment Association, which frets that landlords may face legal sanction if they reject Section 8 renters for legitimate reasons not related to income.

Despite those worries, the bill passed the state senate on a 25-12 vote and went into effect this year.

So all those Bay Area renters who use vouchers to cover some or all of their monthly rent, don’t be intimidated by listings trying to turn you away—as of two weeks ago, the law is on your side.