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Maryland delegates OK housing anti-discrimination bill based on tenants’ source of income

After more than two decades of failure, Maryland lawmakers passed legislation Tuesday that makes it illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants based on how they pay their rent, including with government housing vouchers.

Light applause rang out in the House of Delegates chamber following the 95-41 vote. Bill sponsor Del. Brooke Lierman was embraced and congratulated by fellow Baltimore Democrat Del. Maggie McIntosh.

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The state Senate previously approved the measure on a 34-12 vote. After a few procedural steps, the legislation would go to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan for his consideration.

The bill would add “source of income” to a list of prohibited forms of housing discrimination, such as race, religion, gender identity and disability. It would effectively ban landlords and management companies from having policies excluding tenants who use government assistance, such as Housing Choice vouchers, commonly known as “Section 8.”

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“This is simply a matter of giving an opportunity to those who need an additional opportunity for housing,” said Del. Marvin E. Holmes Jr., a Prince George’s County Democrat who led the debate for the bill’s supporters.

Proponents of the bill say voucher holders are often stymied in their attempts to rent apartments or homes because landlords refuse to lease to them. That can have the effect of concentrating voucher-holders in neighborhoods where property owners accept vouchers.

Some Republicans raised concerns that the bill would be onerous on landlords and not result in improving access to affordable housing. Del. Matt Morgan, a Southern Maryland Republican, said the measure represented a “gross violation of property rights.”

Del. Kumar Barve, a Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the committee that reviewed the bill, said many states and several Maryland jurisdictions have enacted similar laws without catastrophic results for landlords or the housing market. Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County passed versions of “source of income” legislation in the past year.

Barve said the bill is about “fairness and decency.”

The statewide bill would allow landlords to continue to use other methods to screen tenants, such as credit history. Owners of fewer than three rental units who do not use a property management company would be exempt from the law.

Violating the state’s anti-discrimination housing law already is a criminal misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty in most cases of up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

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