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Colorado landlords, with some limited exceptions, can no longer refuse to accept prospective tenants based on their source of income, including public housing vouchers, under a new state law that took effect at the start of the year.
“Colorado is home to a diverse array of industries, and a person cannot be denied housing regardless of their source of income, be it in the form of public or private assistance or any lawful employment,” said Civil Rights Division Director Aubrey Elenis in a release. “Further, during a particularly difficult time for many in our state, discrimination based on receiving government or private assistance should never occur. All Coloradans have a right to access housing, and this right is now solidified.”
Housing advocates, with a heavy lift from the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, pushed for a bill to eliminate income discrimination, an issue that has especially impacted renters using Section 8 vouchers. The legislature passed it last spring and Gov. Jared Polis signed it into law in July.
“The new rule prohibiting discrimination based on source of income will help a lot of people across our state find and keep housing — this is especially true for renters who rely on vouchers or non-traditional income streams,” said Zach Neumann, founder of the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project.
He added he expects there will be some enforcement challenges as landlords learn about the rule.
The new law also prevents limitations or preferences related to income sources from being included in advertisements for an apartment or house. Landlords with three or fewer rental units are excluded, as well as single-family landlords with five or fewer homes.
Landlords can continue to run credit checks on prospective tenants to determine qualification, but only if they do so on all tenants, not just those presenting vouchers or atypical income sources.
The CCRD said anyone encountering discrimination because of their verifiable and legal source of income can initiate a formal complaint at its website.
Drew Hamrick, general counsel for the Colorado Apartment Association, said the federal government has left its housing voucher program voluntary, despite repeated efforts by tenant advocates to make it mandatory.
“As an alternative strategy, these groups have focused on legislation in more politically liberal cities and states to force property owners to participate in the otherwise voluntary program through calling nonparticipation in the voucher program housing discrimination,” he said.
Many landlords welcome working with tenants who have a guaranteed source of income, but others are turned away by what Hamrick called the “classic bureaucracy red tape” that comes with the federal program. A host of additional rules and restrictions can drive up administrative and other costs, making housing more expensive than it would otherwise be.
“The pinch point is not housing providers refusing to accept the vouchers. The pinch point is not enough vouchers to go around. There are often 20 applicants for each voucher made available by a Public Housing Authority,” he said.