LOS ANGELES, CA – Renters in Los Angeles and people at risk of homelessness could soon get support from a new effort that seeks to crack down on discriminatory rental practices and speed up efforts to house people experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, Councilmembers Mike Bonin, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Nithya Raman announced today at a press conference at LA City Hall.
The three Councilmembers jointly proposed the “Fair Access for Renters” legislative package, a series of proposals that would address housing discrimination, empower renters in the rental application process, and reduce barriers to housing the unhoused by:
- Enacting a local “fair chance” ordinance prohibiting screening on the basis of an applicant’s criminal history
- Prohibiting screening on the basis of COVID impacts, eviction history, or credit history
- Increasing transparency in the rental process by requiring landlords to disclose their screening criteria to applicants before they apply and to provide applicants with a reason for any denials
“It is really easy to become homeless in Los Angeles, but it’s really hard to stay housed and to get housed in Los Angeles. We need to fix that,” said Bonin. “There are structural barriers and biases that make it nearly impossible for some people to find housing. To make significant progress in the battle against homelessness and housing insecurity, we must remove those barriers and biases, and that’s what these proposals do.”
Said Councilmember Raman: “When people have housing, they work to stay in it. We know that. Many Angelenos will pay rent before they even pay for food. And when they do so, they are being penalized for it. It is our responsibility at the City to do everything in our power to ensure that Angelenos who are searching for housing and have the means to pay and be good tenants don’t face additional obstacles to finding a place to live.”
“These proposals do what the government is supposed to do,” said Councilmember Harris-Dawson. “These motions address rental access and transparency and help us target a very open and capricious practice of discrimination in the city. We’d like to shine a light on that process and make sure the most obvious barriers to housing are remedied.”
Continued Harris-Dawson: “I want to thank the organizations who helped bring this legislation to the stage that it is, and commit to you that my fellow Councilmembers and I will work together to convince our colleagues to bring this legislation to law and move the city closer to a place where discrimination is not so common.”
Some of the components of Fair Access for Renters’ package are based on existing, successful ordinances in other cities, while some of the package’s components are targeted towards protecting renters from more novel predatory and discriminatory tactics like algorithmic tenant screening services.
“Renters can pay multiple application fees only to later find out they didn’t qualify or were rejected for unknown reasons, leaving them down hundreds of dollars they don’t have and still unable to access housing,” said Faizah Malik, Senior Staff Attorney at Public Counsel. “One important component of this legislative package is that it will make the rental process more transparent by requiring landlords to disclose their screening criteria up front and give reasons for any denials. This will allow tenants to avoid paying fees to apply for apartments they do not qualify for, and gives tenants an opportunity to proactively address landlords’ concerns.”
“Fair Access for Renters” would also dramatically increase the City’s ability to address the homelessness crisis. Despite the passage in 2019 of a California law that prohibits landlords from discriminating on the basis of source of income, housing navigators and homeless service providers report that landlords often quietly reject prospective tenants for exactly that reason – often using things like credit scores, criminal records, or eviction histories as proxies – leaving voucher holders with little recourse but to remain on the street or in interim shelter with a voucher in hand, often for so long the vouchers expire.
“I have seen far too many people receive the promise of housing from the government in the form of a housing voucher, only to be forced to return that valuable assistance, unused, because they could not find a landlord willing to rent to them due to screening issues,” said Sasha Harnden, Public Policy Advocate at Inner City Law Center. “While housing assistance discrimination is banned in California, far too many landlords are able to skirt that prohibition by using inappropriate and irrelevant screening criteria to deny these applicants for other reasons.”
“We need fairness in the rental system. There are too many brown and Black people who try to rent an apartment and then don’t get rented to,” said Lupita Gonzalez, an organizer with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. “This legislation is important and personal to our members, and we’re going to make sure it passes.”
The motions – developed in partnership with and supported by ACCE, Public Counsel, Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, Inner City Struggle, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Disability Rights California, Community Power Collective, Eastside LEADS, Inner City Law Center, and the Los Angeles Community Action Network – now head to the Housing Committee for consideration.