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Attorney General v. Brown

    Brief Fact Summary. A landlord refused to rent units to those on public assistance.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A landlord may have legitimate business reasons to deny housing to those on public assistance, and he may do so, as long as their reliance on public assistance is not the sole reason for denying housing.

    Facts. Harold Brown (Defendant) owned housing units throughout a city. A government agency gave certificates entitling the holder to assistance in housing payments. Defendant refused to accept the certificate holders as tenants because it was not economically advantageous to him. The Attorney General (Plaintiff) claims that he violated a law, which prohibits landlords form discriminating against recipients of public assistance or housing subsidies solely because the individual is such a recipient. Plaintiff also claims his refusal is racial discrimination because most of the recipients are minorities. Judgment for Plaintiff.

    Issue. Can a landlord refuse to rent to people on public assistance, if he has legitimate business reasons for refusing to accept those tenants?

    Held. Yes. Judgment reversed.
    Defendant’s loss of cash flow prevented him from collecting, in advance, the last month’s rent and a security deposit equal to a month’s rent. That these reasons are related to the housing program does not necessarily equate with discrimination “solely” on the basis of the individual’s status as a recipient of public assistance. Defendant should have the opportunity to litigate the issues to see if they are legitimate business reasons which are not satisfied by the protections afforded by the regulations of the program.
    While the regulations do offer some compensation to landlords renting to people on assistance, it is unclear whether those protections are enough to dispel the negative effects that would result to Defendant if he had to follow the regulations.

    Discussion. Welfare recipients should be given the same right to housing as others. But, doing so sometimes results in an economic disadvantage to landlords who must comply with welfare regulations.


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