Thursday, May 9, 2013

Forced to Accept Section 8? What? One Real Estate Lawyer's Finger to the Local Government

Hello Followers!  News just in to me.... I heard today that the Cook County (Illinois) Human Rights Ordinance is possibly going to be amended to force property owners to accept Section 8 Tenants, citing long-standing issues and the fight against "income discrimination."  I'm in SHOCK!!!  People who know me have heard me rant from time to time about Section 8 and the ridiculousness with which the program STILL exists.  In this possible ongoing installment, I'd like to comment on why property owners should not accept Section 8 vouchers, and they should be extremely wary of those people who have them.  In my lawyer's experience doing evictions and landlord/tenant work, voucher-holders, are simply not in touch with reality and thus, in too many instances, not good tenants to work with.

The Cook County Amendment basically creates a new classification of discrimination (i.e. "income") against which the ordinance prohibits conduct against individuals.  It creates a new protected class of persons, and thus widens the group of people who can make a claim of housing discrimination.  The existing prohibitions relating to fair housing and real estate are race, religion, sex, age, disability, among some others.  By adding a new group, those who are "income challenged" the Cook County Board has decided, that property owners may not choose specifically to refuse rent to someone on the basis of their income.

THAT IS RIDICULOUS!   First, I say this because that is the entire basis of the world order in this country.  Poor people can't afford mansions for a reason:  they are poor.  If a person cannot afford a swanky three bedroom condominium in the heart of the downtown area, then by golly, they should go and find something that they can work with.  If they can't find anything, then PERHAPS, they should re-evaluate their jobs, lives, cars, religion, friends, or whatever is holding them back from education, work and creating a realistic goal in regards to income.  It is, as a real estate attorney, manifestly unfair to a property owner to force them to consider the source of income only for the positive, and not be able to consider it as a negative.  If such rules are passed, then landlords may be forced to consider illegally obtained funds as well, say from prostitution, drug sales, and such crazy things as online gambling.  Why shouldn't the source of money count?  It counts to the IRS.  It counts in divorce court.  It counts when one applies for health insurance or medical care.  It counts when people ask for food stamps.  I am super excited for a reason that actually changes my mind about section 8 - I have YET to see it.

Second, what is often unknown about the Section 8 program is that a property owner is required to accept the vouchers through participation in a program and an actual contract with the housing authority.  As the result of that, the landlord has two contracts - the lease with the tenant which has its own set of provisions, and yet another contract - one with the housing authority, that prohibits how and when the landlord can evict, when the tenant can move.  Although some landlords don't mind this setup, it creates a forced business arrangement and shoves down the landlord's proverbial throat, a partnership that may not be welcome.  That to me, is unconstitutional.  

Third, has anyone ever really examined the amount of rent that the tenant pays in a housing voucher program? It's so low that a high schooler could afford it. So then, what that does is teach the recipient that they do NOT have to work hard, get an education, or work to reach a level where they can afford more.  It teaches, by implication and example, that the costs associated with a productive life do not have to be paid, because "there's a coupon for that."  It creates a situation where the voucher-holder/tenant starts to think that $1000 a month is crazy-expensive and improper, when the majority of us tax-paying, hard-working, educated-ourselves-to-make-a-better-life have to pay "market rent" or higher, to live where we want to live.   If a person begins to think that the correct price for housing is $100-400 a month, then they are never put in a position to work for more, thus keeping themselves in the vortex of poverty that they supposedly want to get out of.   Let's teach a man to fish here, people.  

Now, I could go on and on about how I feel about this.  But what is important here is the fact that in Cook County, Illinois where I practice, this could really create a fuss.  I'm 100% positive this will be challenged in court and to some degree, and I'm very excited for this prospect.  I think that our government, even at the local level, in this instance, is playing Big Brother, and poorly at that.  If people on the Cook County Board care so much about low-income residents, then perhaps they should be spending time educating people on what life really costs, and encouraging people in Chicago to stay in school, stop selling drugs and shooting each other, and to aim and reach higher than the CHA Section 8 Program.  The rest of us, working our tails off to pay our market rent and mortgage costs, whose taxes pay the Cook County Board's salary and whose tax dollars and consumer dollars have to subsidize these foolish and lazy entitlement seekers, will thank you for your time well spent. 

If you get the chance and are in Chicago and agree:  Let your Alderman know your thoughts.  As a real estate attorney, I would recommend that all property owners fight against this.  You can't be forced to do business with any entity that you do not want to do business with.  You may not be able to de-select people because of race, religion, age, or protected status.  However, income is NOT a valuable or fair protected class status in my opinion.   If you can't afford it, that is just too bad.  It happens to the rich and middle class, and the poor should not be put on a pedestal to get that which they have not earned, all the while forcing a landlord to rent to them when he or she would not otherwise qualify them based upon income.  

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