When the General Assembly passed legislation last year that added source of income to the list of protected classes in Virginia’s Fair Housing Law, there was a lot of uncertainty as to how this would affect landlords, especially large landlords. We got a glimpse of how the new laws would affect landlords through some lawsuit settlements at the beginning of this year, though the change in leadership at the Attorney General’s office means that we might not want to read too much into these outcomes.
In the fall of 2021, the Virginia AG’s office filed 13 lawsuits against 29 Richmond-area rental companies and property managers, alleging discrimination against tenants who use federal Housing Choice Vouchers to pay their rent. The lawsuits said that the tenants identified themselves as using vouchers and were then “categorically rejected.” Using testers, the AG’s office along with a national watchdog organization reached out to staff members at the companies who stated that the properties did not accept voucher holders.
As part of the settlements, the companies agreed to pay more than $100,000 in relief. They also agreed to conduct additional fair housing training for staff and advertise that they accept vouchers at their properties.
Along with the actions by the AG’s office, there is also the possibility of private lawsuits. Just last week, a tenant filed a lawsuit against a property owner and property manager in South Richmond, stating that the property discriminated against her by charging tenants using housing vouchers more rent than those who are not using vouchers. The attorney representing the property management firm has stated that the firm complied with all federal and state laws in the way it handled these cases.
Should you have further questions on this topic, we encourage you to contact the Virginia REALTORS® Legal Hotline.