Citizenship, immigration status added to Annapolis fair housing law

Citizenship, immigration status added to Annapolis fair housing law

Originally published by LA Times

Annapolis landlords and property managers cannot under updated Annapolis law ask about the citizenship or immigration status of potential tenants or buyers.

A revision to the Annapolis fair housing code passed Monday would bar landlords and property managers from probing potential renters or buyers about their immigration or citizenship status.

The new law outlines additional types of illegal discrimination in housing: asking for citizenship status, requiring proof of immigration or citizenship status and requiring a screening process that forces the buyer to reveal citizenship status without providing an alternative.

The law also would bar landlords from evicting tenants based on immigration or citizenship status or reporting a tenant’s immigration status or citizenship status to anyone.

Annapolis fair housing law already bars discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, disability, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, sex, source of income or national origin.

Alderman Marc Rodriguez, the bill’s lead sponsor, spearheaded the legislation after spending time with immigrant families living in poor conditions within the city.

Rodriguez last summer provided legal help to asylum seekers in the South Texas Family Residential Center, a detention center in Dilley, Texas. He returned with a desire to make it easier for people to access safe, adequate housing.

At the April 29 City Council meeting, a number of advocates supported the measure.

Maryline O’Shea, an Annapolis resident from France, spoke of the limitations already burdening immigrants.

“I’m here to tell you that the limitations placed on immigrants are already hard enough to overcome,” she said. “Building a sufficient income and credit history required to qualify for the rent levels in our city is already a tremendous challenge.”

O’Shea, a real estate agent and landlord renting to an immigrant family, said she sees no negative effect on the industry. Rather, she sees the move as a weight lifted from immigrants who fear unfair treatment.

Rodriguez consulted with the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, an organization providing education, training and government services to the multi-housing industry in Maryland.

Adam Skolnik, executive director of the association, said the law would not pose significant barriers to organization members, largely apartment community management owners. Most Annapolis landlords and property managers accept alternatives to Social Security numbers to verify credit, criminal background and renting history for potential tenants, he said.

“All our members really want to do is verify a person can pay their rent,” Skolnik said.

The law carves out an exemption for other laws requiring housing organizations to check immigration or citizenship status.

Federal law requires housing authorities receiving government assistance to ensure at least one member of a family has U.S. citizenship. Families with mixed citizenship, such as undocumented immigrants or those awaiting asylum, can still receive prorated assistance, adjusted for the number of citizens living in the unit.

The Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis does not currently house any non-citizens, said HACA Chief Financial Officer Lucia Cook. It does screen residents without a U.S. birth certificate for immigration status.

The updated fair housing law, if passed, would not impact this process.

The proposal does come as President Donald Trump’s administration seeks to limit the number of non-citizens receiving federal housing assistance.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a rule change requiring housing authorities such as HACA to screen residents and deny housing to those who are not citizens.

If the federal rule takes effect, Cook said, HACA will screen residents for citizenship status. If there are non-citizens living in mixed families, the housing authority will look for legal advice on how to proceed, she said.

The Annapolis law would not bar landlords or property managers from complying with other state or federal laws. The MMHA would “be happy to help facilitate a training with (Rodriguez) or with the city about the law and fair housing laws in general,” Skolnik said.

Rodriguez also plans, in conjunction with the city Human Relations Commission, to train residents on their housing rights.

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