Atlanta Ordinance to Require Voucher Acceptance, Preempted by State Law
(APN) ATLANTA — The City of Atlanta is currently considering an ordinance by Councilman Antonio Brown (District 3) that would ban rental discrimination in Atlanta on the basis of form of payment – essentially requiring residential lessors (“landlords”) to accept vouchers issued by a housing authority.
Councilman Antonio Brown (District 3) introduced the ordinance as a personal paper at Monday’s Full Council Meeting, on February 03, 2020.
The ordinance has been referred to the Community Development/Human Services Committee, which will meet and consider the paper on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 at noon.
It has also been referred to the Finance/Executive Committee, which will meet on Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 1 p.m.
Prohibiting discrimination on the basis of form of payment is a national best practice, recently having been adopted in Baltimore County, Maryland. It helps to further the goal of socioeconomic integration, whereas vouchers are often only accepted in poorer neighborhoods.
The only problem is, here in Georgia, the proposed ordinance appears to be preempted by state law adopted by the Georgia Legislature.
The State of Georgia has a Georgia Fair Housing Act that is codified at O.C.G.A. 8-3-200, et seq.
The Georgia Fair Housing Act, like the federal Fair Housing Act, identifies seven protected classes: race, color, national origin, religion, gender/sex, familial status, and disability status.
Then, in O.C.G.A. 8-3-220, it states that political subdivisions–like cities and counties–may “adopt verbatim” the state’s laws against discriminatory housing practices, but “may not expand or reduce the rights granted by this article.”
“A political subdivision of this state may adopt verbatim the laws against discriminatory housing practices cited in Code Section 8-3-202, 8-3-203, 8-3-204, 8-3-205, or 8-3-222 of this article as a local ordinance but may not expand or reduce the rights granted by this article.”
O.C.G.A. 8-3-202, one of the state laws that cities may only adopt verbatim, bans discrimination in rental housing; and explicitly lists the seven protected classes in each related provision.
In fact, the City of Atlanta appears to have already contradicted state law when it adopted additional protected classes without state authority to do so.
The City of Atlanta currently has twelve protected classes on the books, as noted on this City webpage dedicated to “Fair Housing.”
The City has previously added age, domestic partnership status, parental status, gender identity, and sexual orientation as protected classes to its Code of Ordinances, Part II, Ch. 94, “Human Relations.”
Councilman Brown’s current proposal, if adopted, would raise the number of local protected classes from twelve to thirteen. However, the issue remains that State law only permits cities to have seven.
It is not immediately clear why the City continues to have a law on the books that contradicts, and is preempted by, state law.
This situation would appear to set tenants up for failure, in that the publication of laws is supposed to put tenants on notice as to their rights, but Atlanta’s code purports to provide rights and remedies that are preempted by the state.
If a tenant were to take their lessor to court with a discrimination claim, they might learn that Atlanta’s law has set them up for a disconcerting revelation.
The Atlanta Apartment Association says they have additional concerns about the proposal as well. They worry the Atlanta Housing Authority’s inspection process to approve apartments to receive vouchers can be burdensome.
RESOLUTION TO STATE OF GEORGIA CO-SPONSORED BY MOST OF COUNCIL
Councilman Brown also introduced a second resolution asking the State of Georgia to add form of payment as a statewide protected class.
This resolution has been co-sponsored by nearly all the Council, and has been referred to Finance/Executive Committee only.
Councilman Brown expressed interest in participating in an interview for this article, which was held for publication for a possible interview on yesterday. APN provided a full day window to conduct the interview and followed up by text message, but Brown did not call by the end of the evening.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2020)