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Maryland roundup

by Walter Olson on April 12, 2014

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A video from the humor site The Chive has been making the rounds with a landlord’s narration of the ghastly extent of damage to a family home done by a single really bad tenant participating in the federal Section 8 housing-voucher program (and not responsible for most of the rent). Some landlords might react to such an experience by becoming more wary of Section 8 tenants and subjecting them to extra screening or interviewing, while others might be more convinced by assurances (from various quarters supportive of the Section 8 program) that horror stories are in no way typical and that tenants using the vouchers are no more likely to trash a property than any other tenants.

Such a difference of opinion might be of relatively limited interest — some landlords could follow one strategy, others the opposite, and experience would tell which was the more successful — except that the Obama administration and its allies are taking the position that “discrimination” against Section 8 tenants, whether in the form of extra scrutiny of their applications, turning them away as applicants, or anything else, should be illegal. That is one of the major demands of HUD’s lawsuit against Westchester County, N.Y., and it is the substance of laws passed in Cook County, Ill. and elsewhere lately, at the urging of “fair housing” groups, banning so-called source-of-income discrimination. [Chicago Reporter, Courier News, Tenants Union of Washington State] The message of these laws to hapless landlords like the one who narrates the Chive video is: sorry about your house getting trashed, but tough luck, see you in court if you try to protect yourself. (& welcome Above the Law readers).

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By a 12-4 vote, the board of legislators of the suburban New York county has approved going to court against the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development in the long-running dispute. HUD is still insisting that the county enact a “source of income discrimination” law barring private landlords from turning away Section 8 federally aided tenants, as well as critically reexamine zoning rules in its various towns. [Peter Applebome, NYT, Journal-News, Newsday] Earlier here, etc.

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I’ve got a new piece at Reason on the long-running dispute between the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and the government of Westchester County in suburban NYC. Claiming that Westchester has failed to follow through on promises of attracting more minority homeowners, HUD is suing the county and wielding funding cutoffs to get it to step up a large commitment to subsidized housing, override town zoning rules, and enact an ordinance forbidding private landlords from turning away Section 8 tenants. The WSJ editorialized yesterday on the subject. Further background: ironic that county is being penalized after seeking to cooperate [Gerald McKinstry, Newsday; Joanne Wallenstein, Scarsdale 10583]; former Democratic county legislator backs county executive Rob Astorino on so-called “source of income” legislation [Journal-News]; similar law already in effect in Washington, D.C. [Examiner]; earlier coverage here, here, etc., and my 2009 City Journal account.

P.S. Shortly after our piece, a Second Circuit panel ruled the county out of compliance. ProPublica, the foundation-supported reporting-and-opinion outfit, has been doing a series of reporting-and-opinion pieces taking the plaintiffs’ side, including this latest.

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Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley nails twenty property owners and real estate agents over “no kids”, “no Section 8″ language in Craigslist ads [Legal NewsLine]

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