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Our Turn: Let’s ban housing discrimination against domestic violence survivors

Our housing discrimination law promises housing opportunity for all – but it has some holes. Some landlords refuse to rent to domestic violence survivors, even those who have restraining orders against their abusers. Some simply won’t accept housing assistance such as Section 8 or the VASH program for veterans. As landlords ourselves, we believe such practices give landlords a bad name and should be illegal.

New Hampshire legislators have a chance to right this wrong. HB 1409, up for a vote in the House this week, prohibits housing discrimination based on a household’s participation in a federal housing assistance program that pays part of the rent. The legislation also outlaws housing discrimination based on the fact that someone in the household has been victimized by domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

A 2010 study of the impediments to equal housing opportunity in New Hampshire identified these two forms of discrimination as significant obstacles for people seeking rental housing. HB 1409 will remedy this profound and longstanding unfairness in our housing market.

A low-income senior, a veteran on the verge of homelessness, a family with children, or an individual with disabilities who is otherwise qualified for an apartment shouldn’t be denied a place to call home just because part of the rent would be paid by a housing assistance program. Like all of us, they deserve to be judged on their own merits.

HB 1409 will allow people with incomes too low to afford New Hampshire’s high cost of rental housing greater opportunity to choose neighborhoods where they’re able to access the jobs or schools that enable them to thrive. Avoiding segregation of low-income people in certain neighborhoods makes all of our communities stronger.

HB 1409 will also protect a domestic violence survivor from being victimized twice: once by her abuser and then a second time by a landlord who discriminates against her based on the abuse. Domestic violence is never the fault of the victim, and a victim shouldn’t be penalized for it when she leaves her abuser and seeks safe housing.

We recognize that some of our landlord colleagues strenuously oppose HB 1409 and have even suggested that landlords’ property insurance premiums will go up (or that they’ll face policy cancellation) if HB 1409 becomes law. Take it from us: The presence of tenants with housing assistance has no impact on landlords’ property insurance. In fact, we gladly accept tenants receiving housing assistance. The federal government has never once defaulted on its obligations under Section 8 or VASH – their payments are guaranteed rent!

We’ve also heard it said that HB 1409 gives people with housing assistance or domestic violence survivors the right to live in whatever apartments they want. That’s simply not true. Landlords will still have the right to pick and choose their tenants, so long as they’re not treating tenants or potential tenants differently because of past domestic violence victimization or the receipt of housing assistance. HB 1409 merely says that discrimination based on domestic violence or housing assistance – just like discrimination based on race or gender – shouldn’t be tolerated.

We’re in the business of renting apartments, and we’re proud to support this bill. We want the best tenants in our buildings, but we believe we can select them without relying on factors that have no bearing on their qualification. There are very few housing discrimination cases brought in New Hampshire under the existing law. We don’t think HB 1409 will change that fact because we trust that the majority of our landlord colleagues share our commitment to a fair housing market that offers equal opportunity to all.

We encourage the New Hampshire House to send HB 1409 on to the Senate. If you share our belief that discrimination based on a person’s domestic violence history or receipt of housing assistance should be unlawful, please call your representatives today.

(William Caselden is an owner of Great Bridge Properties based in Manchester. Keith Thibault is chief development officer of Southwestern Community Services based in Keene.)

A few corrections to what's posted here: No landlord is forced to rent to anyone who doesn't meet a landlord's other ordinary, non-discriminatory criteria like income verification, bad references or lousy credit history. This proposal just makes denying someone a place to live SOLELY because they have a rental voucher or SOLELY because they're a past victim of domestic abuse illegal, just like it's already illegal to deny housing to someone SOLELY based on the color of their skin or their religion. Also, state anti-discrimination laws don't apply if you have fewer than 4 units.

Thank you for the clarification.

Seems like WILLIAM CASELDEN and KEITH THIBAULT are showing their true ignorance and why this bill should be defeated. Anyone that believes only "females" can be domestic violence survivors as this article states are out of touch with reality. It remains a fact that more males suffer domestic abuse but do not report it. Why would you report it, the womens groups of NH have indoctrinated the police that it could never happen. Do us a favor and move yourself and your fellow womens groups to another state.

I agree with the comment above. This is a well intended bill with terrible consequences for small landlords. If I deny a tenant applicant who is Section 8 or in a domestic conflict but has a poor credit report, will I be accused of discrimination? Signed: Concord landlords for 28 years.

We once wanted to rent to someone who was on board to begin receiving section 8 assistance. By the time the state complied with inspections, and other pending contingencies, it would have been weeks out. When I pursued it I had trouble getting anyone to answer the phone. In the the meantime, we were presented with other, here-and-now tenants who were equally stable. Also, while I am a landlord who would not discriminate based on a tenant's section 8 status by itself (much less a domestic status that is none of my business), I would refuse them if, with or without it, their renting history was poor i.e., non-payment, police/neighbor disputes, eviction, etc. Regulation like this worries me in that decisions that might protect my interests for the right reasons could be seen as "discriminatory" if the prospect is - coincidentally - in the throes of a domestic crisis or the recipient of government assistance. Neither should factor into a landlord's decision. But a renter's relevant history or current viability should not be factored out.

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