At least 10 property management companies across Washington State have illegally refused to rent to military veterans who use federal housing vouchers, according to the Washington State Attorney General's Office.
Investigators in the office's civil rights unit tested about 50 landlords across the state by attempting to apply for housing using Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers. VASH vouchers serve veterans who need case management and have mental illness, substance use, or physical disability. The office found 10 property management companies with blanket policies refusing those vouchers. Because the vouchers serve veterans with disabilities and state law prohibits housing discrimination based on military status or disability (among other protected classes), the AG's office is arguing that refusing the vouchers amounts to illegal discrimination.
Eight of the 10 companies have signed agreements with the AG's office. Under those agreements, the companies promise to end policies refusing VASH vouchers, adopt clear anti-discrimination policies, and train their employees in these policies. They will also each pay between $5,000 and $6,500 in fines. The property management companies are: KPS Realty, Domus Urbis, and Country Homes Realty in Spokane; Celski & Associates Inc. in Kennewick, Rowley Properties Inc. in Issaquah; TJ Cline and Welcome Home Properties in Walla Walla; and Yelm Creek Apartments in Yelm.
The remaining two companies, one based in Utah and the other in Colorado, have refused to sign similar agreements, according to the AG's office. The office says the two companies refused applicants using VASH vouchers and "asked no additional questions about whether the prospective tenant otherwise met the properties’ rental criteria." Apartment Management Consultants LLC, based in Utah, manages 24 rental properties in 10 Washington cities including Everett and Mission Rock Residential LLC, based in Colorado, manages 13 properties in nine Washington cities including Tacoma, according to the AG's office. (No matter where they're based, companies operating in Washington must follow state housing laws.) Neither company responded to The Stranger's calls and emails seeking comment.
Whether the state will actually penalize those two companies for their alleged past discrimination remains to be seen. Before deciding whether to sue Apartment Management Consultants and Mission Rock Residential, the AG's office is waiting out the remaining days of the state legislative session. There, lawmakers are considering legislation that would ban all landlord discrimination based on source of income, including refusal to rent to people with housing vouchers. If that bill passes, declining VASH vouchers would become explicitly illegal under state law. If the bill doesn't pass, lawyers from the AG's office say they may sue the companies for alleged discrimination.
"Veterans are protected from discrimination by Washington law," State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. "No veteran should be denied a roof over their head based on how they plan to pay their rent."
Despite laws against discrimination, local and state authorities have found discriminatory practices among landlords. The Seattle Office for Civil Rights regularly tests rental properties and has found illegal discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, and other factors. Last year, the state AG cracked down on landlords who advertised "no felons allowed," saying those policies have a disproportionate effect on black renters.
This post has been updated to add the amounts the property management companies will pay in fines.