Baltimore City Council seeks to ban landlords from rejecting tenants because they use Section 8 vouchers

The Baltimore City Council is set to take up legislation that would make it illegal for landlords to discriminate against potential tenants because of how they would pay their rent, a move largely designed to stop property owners rejecting Section 8 vouchers out of hand.

Advocates for tenants say the legislation would make it easier for people to find housing once they’re granted a rent subsidy voucher and would increase the number of neighborhoods where poor people can live.

Councilman Ryan Dorsey introduced the bill at Monday’s meeting. It has 10 cosponsors — sufficient support for the measure to pass.

“We must take every step possible to tear down barriers to high-quality housing opportunity for all,” Dorsey said in a speech from the council chamber floor. “How a person's rent or mortgage is paid should have no bearing on where they’re allowed to live.”

State lawmakers have tried to pass similar legislation, which technically bans landlords from discriminating based on “source of income,” as have council members in Baltimore County. But the state and county measures have been controversial, with supporters blaming opponents for stereotyping voucher holders and saying they falsely link them to crime and disorder.

Dorsey said that passing the legislation in Baltimore would send a signal to the General Assembly about the issue’s importance and help spur an effort to impose the same standard statewide. The City Council adopted a resolution Monday calling on the state to act.

Legislation passed the House of Delegates in 2017 but was not acted on by the state Senate.

Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat, said in a Twitter post that she was pleased Dorsey’s measure had been introduced and said she “will continue to work to pass it statewide.”

While similar legislation failed in Baltimore County in 2016, a settlement between the county and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires the council to revisit the issue.

Baltimore City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett said passing the legislation would allow housing vouchers to fulfill their promise.

“The whole intent of the voucher is to help people move to opportunity, to send them to a school or a neighborhood of their choice,” Burnett said.

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