California files first Section 8 discrimination lawsuit

Two Sacramento landlords allegedly harassed tenant because she paid with voucher

California Civil Rights Department director Kevin Kish (Illustration by The Real Deal with Getty, LinkedIn)
California Civil Rights Department director Kevin Kish (Illustration by The Real Deal with Getty, LinkedIn)

Can California end the “rampant” illegal housing discrimination against Section 8 voucher holders? The Civil Rights Department is ready to try.

The state’s civil rights department filed a lawsuit against two Sacramento landlords, alleging harassment against a voucher-holding tenant, the Los Angeles Times reported. It’s the first lawsuit brought by the agency since a 2020 state law made it illegal for landlords to refuse housing vouchers.

The lawsuit alleges Carlos and Linda Torres sent their tenant, Alycia Gonsalves, an eviction notice, saying they were removing the rental from the voucher program. Gonsalves said that was illegal, leading the landlords to allegedly threaten violence and lock her out.

Gonsalves allegedly couldn’t retrieve furniture, medical equipment and family heirlooms. When she finally regained access, many items were damaged or destroyed, according to the complaint.

The eviction allegedly came about after Gonsalves, who is physically disabled, halted side payments to the landlords that were not mandated under the voucher program.

The lawsuit is seeking monetary damages on behalf of the Gonsalves.

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California landlords are not required to rent to every household with a Section 8 voucher. They can’t discriminate on that basis, though. They also can’t discriminate by charging higher rent or blocking access to common areas for those with vouchers.

Under the Section 8 program, rent is capped at roughly one-third of a tenant’s income and a federal subsidy makes up the difference. The program is administered at a local level, though, and instances of discrimination frequently crop up. Advocates hope lawsuits like the one in Sacramento deter other instances of discrimination.

Complications with federal voucher programs spread far beyond California’s borders. In Connecticut, nearly half of the Section 8 vouchers dispersed in the past two years went unused, holders trapped by a lack of vacant units and a program value failing to keep pace with the broader rental market.

In New York, meanwhile, Compass recently reached an agreement with the New York Attorney General over allegations of voucher discrimination. The brokerage received a slap on the wrist from the AG months after it settled a suit brought by the watchdog Housing Rights Initiative, which led Compass to agree to bigger commissions for agents who broker Section 8 leases.

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— Holden Walter-Warner