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Landlords Challenge Austin’s Section 8 Law

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) - Apartment owners sued Austin, Texas, challenging an anti-discrimination law that the landlords say will force them to accept Section 8 housing vouchers.

In its Dec. 12 lawsuit in Travis County Court, the Austin Apartment Association claims that Austin's amended fair housing ordinance violates the U.S. and Texas Constitutions.

The trade association claims that most of its more than 1,000 members in Austin will be harmed by the law, which takes effect on Jan. 12, 2015.

The law amended the city's fair housing ordinance by adding "source of income" as a protected class, along with the federally protected categories of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status and national origin.

The landlords' group claims the ordinance is more restrictive than federal and state law because neither the federal Fair Housing Act nor the Texas Fair Housing Act includes "source of income" as a protected class.

"The ordinance does not just preclude Austin property owners from refusing to rent to anyone on the basis of their 'source of income.' It requires the property owners to favor certain renters over the public at-large," the association says in the lawsuit.

It claims that the law "forces property owners to contract with the federal government under the Section 8 Housing Voucher Program. Under federal law, the Section 8 program has always been intended as a voluntary program for property owners, and those property owners who volunteer to participate in the program have to accept substantially one-sided lease terms for participating renters."

The association describes Section 8 as "a historically troubled and controversial program." It claims the law will force landlords in Section 8's "complicated administrative labyrinth" and "will impose substantial legal and administrative compliance costs."

It claims that many of its members "have business reasons for deciding not to participate in the [Section 8] program."

A spokesperson for the Austin Apartment Association told Courthouse News that the group has a welter of problems with the law:

that the City Council's approval of the law on Dec. 11 gave apartment owners only 20 work days to prepare for it;

that under the federal program each unit must be inspected before it can be rented;

that the landlords will have to "comply with 400 pages of federal rules and regulations," and agree to "federal(ly) mandated lease terms;"

that the cumbersome procedures will result in "rents being raised across the board;"

that the requirement of federal inspection will cost landlords money each time a tenant moves out and they want to re-rent the unit;

that the federal rules will make it more difficult to evict tenants who have violated their lease;

that it will increase administrative costs for the city;

and that the final result will make housing less affordable in Austin.

The city told Courthouse News that it is "prepared to defend this ordinance against any legal challenges."

The city said that about 5,700 families in Austin get "tenant-based rental assistance" each month.

The association seeks declaratory judgment that the law is unconstitutional and unenforceable, a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction.

It is represented by Craig Enoch with Enoch Kever.

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