Last fall, the Naperville City Council addressed the issue of whether or not landlords within the city must include housing choice voucher income for potential tenants and thus, whether they would force landlords to participate in a voluntary government program against their will, according to Colin Dalough, the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce’s director of government affairs and business development.
The city’s fair housing ordinance has prohibited discrimination on the basis of income since 1976, but never before had it clearly defined what counts as a “legal source of income,” Dalough said.
Now “income” in Naperville city law has been expanded to include housing vouchers, as well as child support, medical assistance from the local, state or federal government and any other funds with which an individual supports himself or herself.
This change in code, which became immediately effective in October 2016, means that all landlords are required to include the income from a housing choice voucher along with any other legal source of income. But it does not require landlords to rent to voucher-holders who don’t meet other screening criteria, including credit score, criminal history and references. However, it does impose additional regulations on the landlord and can change the terms of the underlying rental agreement.
Landlords won’t be forced to rent to a voucher tenant if the unit would require renovations to meet federal housing quality standards; and they are free to rent to another tenant who can pay in full.
Dalough and the Chamber became active because many of its members who are landlords, ranging from homeowners with a room to rent to large apartment complexes, did not understand the proposed changes and wanted to know all of the strings attached to acceptance of the government housing vouchers. They did not want to see “an erosion of property owners’ rights in Naperville,” Dalough said.
“We encouraged, and continue to encourage, greater voluntary participation in the housing choice voucher program. There are a lot of benefits for a landlord. However, we did not agree that a voluntary federal program with additional burdens should be made mandatory by city ordinance,” he added.
“In the end, the city council did not adopt the Chamber’s position, but we got the message out to our members who were affected by this change and they became engaged in the process. We empowered our members with good information and gave them the opportunity to lobby their local officials during the four-month discussion,” Dalough added.
The HUD-issued vouchers that were under discussion only cover a certain percentage of someone’s rent and have a limit on their value. Therefore, some rental properties within Naperville do not even qualify, Dalough said. “But even if the vouchers will not work at a community because of the amount of the rent, the law still requires that the vouchers be accepted so the application process can proceed. It is unlawful to refuse an application that involves a voucher.”
Landlords must, instead, run the applications through their standard procedures and then make a decision, based on the results. They cannot refuse to initiate the process and still stay in compliance with the law, Dalough noted.
“It is a complicated issue that puts additional burdens on the landowner, including things like habitability inspections,” he said. “It gets very technical so we want to help our members stay in compliance and avoid confusion.”