Broward enacts new protections against housing discrimination

Broward County landlords can no longer refuse to rent to someone simply because that person is a military veteran or domestic violence victim.

Broward commissioners unanimously voted to expand the county’s housing anti-discrimination regulations Tuesday to ensure military personnel and returning veterans have access to housing and that victims of domestic assault aren’t victimized again.

The discrimination exists, said Wynnora Wilson of Legal Aid Service of Broward County, who has worked with a variety of housing programs.

“I saw firsthand … landlords actually enunciating that they would never rent to a veteran. I found that stunning, but there was absolutely nothing I could do,” Wilson said. “It’s ridiculous that the brave men and women who served this country and sometimes sacrificed their health should ever have to face that type of discrimination.”

Commissioner Nan Rich, who sponsored the legislation, said some landlords don’t want to deal with individuals who might have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but that can’t be a reason to deny housing.

“The barriers just need to fall when it comes to veterans,” Rich said.

The new regulations also protect people with a history of being stalked or assaulted, who can have trouble finding housing because of landlords who fear future attacks might cause disturbances on their property, Wilson said.

The rules also prohibit discrimination based on someone’s source of income, whether it’s an alimony check, a federal government disbursement or money from a social service agency such as United Way.

While landlords couldn’t discriminate against an individual because of a disability, they could turn away a person whose income included federal disability payments, said Jeff Weinberger, a social activist who started pushing for expanding the fair housing categories two years ago. A landlord who doesn’t want older tenants could refuse someone because they rely on Social Security checks, he said.

“Source of income discrimination can obscure these other forms of discrimination. These are real-world things that happen to people,” Weinberger said.

The federal government prohibits discrimination based on someone’s race, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and whether or not they have children. Florida includes protections based on a person’s HIV status. Broward also has additional protections covering marital status, political affiliation, sexual orientation, pregnancy and gender identity or expression.