Bexley's new law: Landlords can't reject tenants with federal housing vouchers

CHRIS BOURNEA
ThisWeekNEWS.com

With Bexley City Council’s passage of Ordinance 28-20 on Sept. 22, Bexley became the seventh city in Ohio to adopt legislation designed to prevent landlords from rejecting prospective tenants with federal housing vouchers for rent subsidies.

“By protecting individuals from discrimination on the basis of income source, residents and families in Bexley who receive rental assistance will have an equal opportunity to seek out and find high quality housing,” states the final, amended version of Ordinance 28-20.

Council voted 6-1 in favor of the ordinance. Council member Richard Sharp cast the no vote.

Bexley City Hall

Bexley joins Cincinnati, Linndale, South Euclid, University Heights, Warrensville Heights and Wickliffe in putting some form of legislation to assist tenants with federal housing vouchers in place. 

“This will help us in our efforts to become an increasingly welcoming community,” said Council President Lori Ann Feibel, who introduced Ordinance 28-20 at council’s Aug. 11 meeting. “This is a start, and it is an appropriate start, for a city that is landlocked, has little potential for new buildings, but has a passionate citizenry who have urged the city to increase affordable housing.”

Before the final vote, Feibel introduced an amendment, which council approved 7-0, stating the ordinance would not go into effect until January 2021.

“This would allow landlords time to become educated about the program and their rights and responsibilities,” Feibel said.

Feibel said she took a suggestion from Sharp and consulted with Mayor Ben Kessler, Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority president and CEO Charles Hillman; Amy Klaben, chief executive officer of Move to Prosper, a Columbus-based nonprofit organization that assists individuals with finding affordable rental housing; and the Bexley Community Foundation about assisting Bexley landlords with rental property inspections that CMHA conducts for tenants with housing vouchers.

Previous story:Bexley council studying issue before vote on housing-opportunities ordinance

“I have reached out to the Bexley Community Foundation to inquire about a grant to assist landlords with the inspection process and/or to bring rental units up to city code,” with discussions underway about how to fund and administer the grant, Feibel said.

Before casting the no vote, Sharp cited concerns about how Ordinance 28-20 would be enforced, since there are numerous scenarios in which potential tenants who do not have housing vouchers can claim they were discriminated against by landlords on the basis of income, race or other factors.

“With so many variables thrown in,” Sharp said, “it can be impossible for the property owner to be fair and compassionate.”

City Attorney Marc Fishel said the ordinance is not a mandate that landlords accept potential tenants with housing vouchers. Fishel said the legislation enables landlords to continue to charge security deposits and apply screening criteria such as tenant history and credit scores.

“This is not an affirmative-action requirement,” Fishel said. “No landlord is required to… take the person who has a voucher, as opposed to the other (rental applicant).”

Council member Monique Lampke said will increase access to rental housing in Bexley for residents at all income levels.

“It’s important to me that anyone who receives outside assistance to pay their rent should have access fair and equal access to rental housing throughout Bexley,” Lampke said. “I think that discrimination based on source of income should not be optional.”

In other business Sept. 22, Sharp introduced Ordinance 43-20, which he said is designed to provide incentives for landlords to accept housing vouchers from potential tenants, rather than penalize landlords for not accepting the vouchers.

If approved, Ordinance 43-20 would enable the city to establish a short-term Housing Voucher Acceptance Program Grant through Dec. 31, 2021. The program would provide quarterly information sessions for landlords on how to accept federal housing vouchers issued by CMHA and provide up to $650 per rental property from November 2020 through December 2021 to help defray administrative, training and inspection costs.

Council’s second reading of Ordinance 43-20 is tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 13 in a meeting to be held via Zoom.

For more information, go to bexley.org.

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