LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – Legislation in the Michigan Senate would prevent landlords from discriminating against renters based on the source of their income.

According to the Fair Housing Center of Michigan, ten cities in Michigan have an ordinance against source-of-income discrimination. Elsewhere, landlords may turn down potential tenants who present child support, housing vouchers, or other forms of government assistance as income.

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Nora Ryan, supervising attorney for Michigan Legal Help, says this defeats the purpose of housing vouchers.

“You have a relatively short period of time to be able to place that voucher,” she told Public News Service. “A lot of landlords do not accept those vouchers. You can actually run out of time to use that voucher, and you can lose it. That ticket to stable, affordable housing is cut off.”

Under the proposed legislation, landlords would be prohibited from denying or terminating rental agreements, charging different rates, or discouraging a potential tenant based solely on source of income. A potential tenant who believes they have suffered a loss due to a violation of the law would be permitted to “bring an action to recover actual damages or up to 4.5 times the monthly rent of the rental unit or units at issue, whichever is greater, together with court costs and reasonable attorney fees.”

The legislation defines “source of income” to include “benefits or subsidy programs including housing assistance, public assistance, emergency rental assistance, veterans benefits, Social Security, supplemental security income or other retirement programs, and other programs administered by any federal, state, local, or nonprofit entity.” Income derived illegally is not protected.

In April, an Ann Arbor woman filed a lawsuit claiming source-of-income discrimination. Megan Morse said she was denied an apartment because she tried to use a housing voucher, which she received as a result of her epilepsy and other disabilities.

“I was very confused as to why [I was being denied] because I had this voucher in my hand, literally, kind of waving it, almost going ‘Hey, I have this money, it’s a guarantee’ to move in, but still I was denied.”

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Ann Arbor is one of the ten cities with an ordinance against source-of-income discrimination, but the Civil Rights Litigation Initiative at the University of Michigan Law School representing Morse called the case a first of its kind.

“This lawsuit puts Ann Arbor landlords on notice that discrimination against people with housing vouchers will no longer be tolerated,” said Rebecca Lowy, one of the student attorneys with the initiative.

The Community Housing Network, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing homelessness, said the negative stigma attached to rental subsidy programs harms the most vulnerable.

“Housing is shelter. Housing is healthcare,” the organization said. “Housing is a fundamental human right that must be protected.”