By Gary D. Koch, Petrie + Pettit
It finally happened – we’ve had a fair housing challenge to a landlord’s refusal to accept rental assistance. In this case, it’s Wisconsin Emergency Rental Assistance (“WERA”) funds, but the lesson here is applicable to any / all assistance funding.
Under the Wisconsin Open Housing law (found at Wis. Stat. §106.50), discrimination in housing is prohibited. This includes discrimination against any “lawful source of income” (Wis. Stats. §106.50(1m)(h)). Per the Wisconsin Administrative Code, the term lawful source of income “includes, but is not limited to, lawful compensation or lawful remuneration in exchange for goods or services provided; profit from financial investments; any negotiable draft, coupon or voucher representing monetary value such as food stamps; social security; public assistance; unemployment compensation or worker’s compensation payments.” Wis. Admin. Code. DWD § 222.02(8).
In our current case, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s Equal Rights Division (ERD) has advanced the (unsubstantiated) assertion that “Rental assistance can be viewed as a lawful source of income”. Obviously, the ERD thinks that rent assistance falls into one of the definitions of lawful source of income.
This case is just in the initial stages of investigation. As it works its way through the system, beware, as with almost anything, that if you are taking an action such as refusing to accept rental assistance, our team recommends that your reasons for refusing are nondiscriminatory, non-retaliatory, and made across-the-board (i.e., for ALL tenants, not just the “problem” ones). We also recommend that your non-discriminatory, non-retaliatory, across-the-board reasons be internally documented to establish a record should one become necessary in future.
I guess we aren’t done penalizing landlords because of the pandemic.
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