Owner Didn't Discriminate Against Voucher Holder
Facts: A prospect with a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher sued an owner for discrimination based on her status as a public assistance recipient in violation of the state's human rights act. The prospect found a listing for a three-bedroom unit with an advertised rent that was within the voucher program limits. She claimed that when she called the office to ask about renting the unit, she disclosed that she would be using a voucher to pay the rent and was told that the owner doesn’t accept vouchers.
Two weeks later, she called again to ask about the unit, but didn’t mention that she would be using a voucher. After arranging an appointment and being shown the unit, she was given a rental application. On it she disclosed that she would be using a voucher. She qualified for a unit and "was accepted."
The prospect's caseworker sent the site a "landlord packet" indicating that in order for the prospect to be able to use her voucher, the site would have to include a HUD tenancy addendum in her lease, per federal regulations. The caseworker informed the site that paperwork would need to be filled out before a HUD-mandated site inspection could take place, and that the paperwork and inspection process "could take a couple of weeks."
The site, through its attorney, contacted the housing authority by letter to state its "problem with the inclusion of a Tenancy Addendum with [the standard] lease" and to see whether it could rent to the prospect without including the addendum. The letter stated, "I wish to make it absolutely clear that my client is not refusing to rent to [prospect] primarily because she is a recipient of public assistance," but because "[t]he addendum includes more restrictive rights and obligations on the landlord th[a]n the standard lease that they use, and my client does not wish to be bound by these more restrictive obligations." The housing authority replied by email that the site couldn’t rent to the prospect without including the addendum.
The site refused to include the addendum in its lease. And the prospect was unable to afford the unit without using the voucher. The trial court granted a judgment without a trial in the owner's favor. The prospect appealed.
Ruling: The Maine Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision.
Reasoning: The court pointed out that the owner didn’t "refuse to rent [to] or impose different terms of tenancy" on the prospect. Rather, the owner was willing to, and in fact did, offer the unit, and was willing to rent to her after learning of her status so long as it could do so without including the tenancy addendum. In essence, the owner offered to rent the unit to the prospect on "the same terms of tenancy offered to any other individual." As a result, the owner didn’t violate the state's human rights act by not offering units to recipients of public assistance on the same terms as it offers units to other potential tenants. The owner's refusal to include the addendum wasn’t "primarily because of [prospect's] status as recipient," but rather because the owner didn’t wish to bind itself to the terms of the tenancy addendum.
- Dussault v. Coach Lantern Holdings, LLC, January 2014