By Judith I. Johannsen

Act 1, Scene 1 in a recurring plan about a hunt for an apartment. Knock, knock, “Who’s there?”, “A single mother of two with a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher and a Security Deposit Guarantee inquiring about the apartment you advertised for rent.”

“Go away, I won’t rent to a section 8 tenant and I want real money for a security deposit, cash up front, not just a guarantee, I have bills to pay.”

Act 1, Scene 2. The disappointed woman feels something is not quite right and speaks with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities officer who investigates.

Act 1, Scene 3. The evidence gathered by the investigator supports a charged that the landlord denied the prospective tenant the opportunity to submit an application for and to rent an available apartment because she qualified for housing assistance and a Security Deposit Guarantee, therefore, by discriminating against her lawful source of income is in violation of Connecticut Fair Housing Laws.

Act 2. CHRO and the landlord reach a settlement agreement requiring him to pay the rejected tenant a large some of money.

This simple two act play is drawn from two recent Connecticut housing discrimination cases, one involving a refusal to accept a person with a Section 8 Voucher and the other involving a demand for two months rent as a deposit “cash up front” because the landlord had bills to pay.

Landlords generally check a prospective tenant’s credit and verify income to see if a person is likely to pay their rent on time and can afford the monthly rent. These prospective tenants whose income is insufficient to cover rent and other monthly expenses may look to the local Public Housing Authority for help in the form of a voucher, a federally funded program to provide housing for qualified individuals.

The Section 8 Program ensures that a tenant does not pay more than 30 percent of his or her monthly adjusted income for rent and utilities with Section 8 paying the balance.

While landlord are permitted to screen credit history and previous references, they may not deny someone housing because Section 8 pays a portion of the rent.

A landlord typically requests a security deposit, which statutorily cannot exceed two months rent. The law requires that the deposit be held in trust for the tenant during the lease term in an interest bearing account and returned to the tenant, with interest and minus damages, upon the tenant leaving the premises.

The escrow security deposit is not a ready source of income of funds for the landlord’s expenses.

For those who cannot afford to pay a monthly security deposit and who are income eligible and holding a Section 8 Voucher or Department of Social Services rent subsidy program certificate, there is the Security Deposit Guarantee Program.

SDGP is a housing assistance that service the same purpose as a cash security deposit and therefore falls within the definition of a “lawful source of income”. The DSS enters into an agreement with the landlord that DSS will guarantee payment of the security deposit in whole or in part, but not to exceed the equivalent of two months rent, if there is damage to the unit or the tenant leaves owing back rent.

Cash is not given to the landlord nor is it deposited in an escrow account, it is simply a guarantee of payment, if and when needed.

Because assistance from a public housing authority is a lawful source of income, refusing to rent to someone with a Section 8 Voucher or who offers the SDGP is unlawful discrimination.

Both cases were settled. In each, the landlord paid a hefty fund ($9,000 and $5,000.).

While bad credit or unlawful references can lead to a landlord legally rejecting a prospective tenant, the deliberate rejection in the cases described above was more than mind boggling, it was unlawful and repaying that experience is not a good thing.

Judith I. Johannson is Assistant Council for the Connecticut Association of Realtors, Inc. This article is taken from the Hartford Courant “Realtor” column.