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Do Virginia Landlords Have to Accept Section 8?

Since 1968, when Virginia’s Fair Housing Act was established, the state has consistently aimed to create a fair and equitable housing environment for its residents. Virginia’s housing laws protect several classes of people from discriminatory housing practices, and the newest addition to this system of laws covers “source of funds” protections. This addition has plenty of Virginia owners and tenants questioning whether Virginia landlords have to accept Section 8.

Let’s explore what this section of the Fair Housing Laws covers, as well as what Virginia landlords and tenants need to know.

Overview of Virginia Fair Housing Laws

The Fair Housing Laws in Virginia are a set of regulations that apply to all housing providers, including landlords, real estate agents, property managers, mortgage lenders, credit unions, insurance companies, and more. Similar to federal housing laws, these laws were put in place to protect individuals from being discriminated against when attempting to rent a place to live, buy a home, obtain a mortgage, or secure a homeowner’s insurance policy.

Virginia’s Fair Housing Laws identify several classes of people that are covered by its protections. Some of the classes protected by Virginia’s Fair Housing Laws include race, color, religion, sex, elderliness, national origin, disability status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, military status, and source of funds.

This means that it is illegal for Virginia landlords and other housing professionals to discriminate against a tenant or potential tenant based on any of the above-mentioned characteristics.

What Does “Source of Funds” Mean?

According to Virginia’s Fair Housing Laws, the term “source of funds” means any source that lawfully provides a renter or buyer of housing with funds. This includes any forms of assistance, benefits, or subsidy programs, regardless of whether these programs are provided by a government or nongovernmental organization. 

Examples of a tenant’s source of funds may include (but are not limited to):

  • Social Security Disability Income
  • Supplemental Security Income
  • Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8)
  • Emergency rental assistance programs
  • Rent Relief Program Funds

Do Virginia Landlords Have to Accept Section 8?

The Fair Housing Laws state that it’s illegal for Virginia landlords or property managers to refuse to rent to an individual due to their source of funds, so long as those funds are legally obtained.

It’s also illegal to require certain terms, conditions, or privileges when it comes to renting a unit based on the renter’s source of funds. For example, a landlord is not allowed to require a full credit report from a renter who receives Section 8 vouchers if those same documents were not required from a renter who does not receive Section 8 vouchers.

In addition, it’s illegal for a landlord or property manager to make any form of statement or advertisement that claims preference, limitation, or discrimination based on a renter’s source of funds. This includes telling a potential renter that a unit is not available due to that individual’s source of funds. Because of this addition to the Fair Housing Laws, in most cases, landlords have to accept Section 8.

Exceptions to the Law for Virginia Landlords

There are a couple of exceptions that apply to the source of funds section of Virginia’s Fair Housing Laws, so it’s important for both Virginia landlords and tenants to be aware of the law’s limitations.

Two key exceptions exist when it comes to the source of funds law.

  1. If the property owner possesses four rental properties or fewer in the state of Virginia, the law that prohibits discrimination based on a renter’s source of funds does not apply. To be considered an owner of a rental property, the individual has to own at least 10% of the property in question.

    In addition, this rule only covers properties “in the commonwealth,” which means that if a property owner possesses properties that reside out-of-state, those properties are not counted.
  2. The source of funds section of the law also does not apply if the individual’s source of income is not approved within 15 days by the program administering the funds.

    For example, if the individual seeking tenancy meets the eligibility criteria and completes the screening process required to rent the unit, the owner needs to accept the potential tenant’s application. If the tenant plans to use a voucher program or the like to pay rent, the owner or property manager would then need to contact the voucher organization (ex: Section 8) to have the property approved. Should this process take longer than 15 days, the owner would be permitted to move on to another applicant. 

Tenants’ Rights

Tenants or prospective tenants who believe they’ve experienced discrimination due to their source of funds can file a complaint with the Virginia Fair Housing Board. Once the board receives this complaint, Virginia’s Fair Housing office will investigate it, which involves creating a report that lists the testimonies gathered, documentation reviewed, and any additional information that pertains to the case.

Afterward, the Virginia Fair Housing Office will determine whether there’s reasonable cause to believe that the claimant experienced discrimination based on their source of funds. If no cause is found, the case is closed. Should the Virginia Fair Housing Office find reasonable cause, the Virginia Attorney General’s office can take legal action in the case. This means that the courts may award injunctive relief, impose civil penalties, provide compensation and punitive damages, and cover reimbursement for attorney’s fees.

As the state continues to evolve its various housing policies, both Virginia landlords and tenants alike play important roles in upholding the principles of fairness and equality. By remaining informed and adhering to the guidelines covered in Virginia’s Fair Housing Laws, it becomes easier to foster a fair and inclusive housing environment throughout the state.

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