California lawmakers act to keep landlords from refusing low-income renters

State Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles)
State Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles).
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

California landlords would no longer be allowed to reject prospective tenants solely because they hold federal Section 8 housing vouchers under a bill passed by the state Legislature on Wednesday.

Should Gov. Gavin Newsom sign it, Senate Bill 329 would prohibit landlords from issuing blanket denials against the 300,000 Californians who receive the vouchers. The program provides the largest direct federal subsidy for low-income tenants.

State Sen. Holly Mitchell, the bill’s author, said bans on Section 8 tenants unfairly harm people of color and those who earn low incomes.

“Why do we continue to criminalize and penalize and have bias against people who are poor?” Mitchell said after the bill cleared the Senate.


The measure would not require landlords to accept Section 8 tenants and they could still deny voucher holders who have poor credit or history of evictions. But it would make “No Section 8” advertisements for apartments illegal.

Mitchell and other supporters of the bill said they needed to act because of the state’s intensifying housing affordability problems and the difficulty Section 8 voucher holders have in finding apartments.

Low-income residents with vouchers pay 30% of their income toward rent with the remaining amount subsidized by the federal government. Nevertheless, a recent study by the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute think tank found that 76% of Los Angeles County landlords with units affordable to Section 8 tenants refused to accept vouchers.

Opponents to the bill contend that bureaucratic hurdles, such as increased inspections and the potential for higher insurance rates, are valid reasons for denying Section 8 tenants.

“The only thing this bill is doing is setting up landlords for further lawsuits,” Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) said during debate on the bill earlier in the week. “And what will that do? It will cause landlords to rent to less people.”

This year, the city of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County passed their own prohibitions on landlords rejecting tenants on the basis of Section 8 status. At least a dozen other city and county governments in the state also already have their own policies.