[Hpn] Woman fights to rent apartment;Burlington Free Press [Vermont];11/18/01
Morgan W. Brown
Sun, 18 Nov 2001 09:29:31 -0500
Sunday, November 18, 2001
Burlington Free Press <http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com>
Woman fights to rent apartment
By Cadence Mertz
Free Press Staff Writer
Joanne Johnson went to court to get her new apartment.
Johnson, 53, has lived in her Old North End apartment for 15 years. A
mortgage company's foreclosure on Johnson's building forced her to find
someplace else to live. She looked for about eight months for a place for
herself, her five cats, dog and two finches.
She moves into an apartment in Winooski in about two weeks.
The move didn't come easy.
Johnson's new landlord, Darby Alberts, initially refused to rent to her. Not
because of the pets, but because Johnson gets government help -- called
Section 8 -- paying for her apartment.
Alberts said he was unhappy about adding the round of government inspections
that comes with renting to someone on Section 8. The question is whether he
has to under Vermont law.
Those who administer the program say Section 8 participation is voluntary.
Vermont Legal Aid lawyers who represent poor clients such as Johnson say
turning down Section 8 tenants is illegal. State law prohibits rental
discrimination "because a person is a recipient of public assistance."
The state's Human Rights Commission recently began considering complaints
from Section 8 recipients denied rentals, said Director Robert Appel. The
commission has never taken a position on the issue, Appel said.
Landlords say Section 8 tenants have a bad reputation for being difficult,
and the program adds a layer of bureaucracy. The program limits how much a
landlord can raise rents, but provides a steady check every month from the
Johnson considered dozens of apartments before finding one that could house
her, her animals and the companion who helps her when she has one of her
frequent epileptic seizures. Johnson's epilepsy prevents her from working.
She lives on about $7,100 a year, according to court documents. Rent for the
Winooski apartment is $800 and Johnson has yet to find out her share.
An Appletree Bay Management Co. representative showed Johnson the apartment
and told her Section 8 would be acceptable, according to court documents.
Alberts said no when he heard how Johnson would pay.
"I didn't want to deal with them coming over inspecting my property,
nit-picking," said Alberts, who owns six apartments in two buildings. "They
have a bad reputation for being overboard."
Others agree with Alberts.
Neville Companies recently advertised that tenants with Section 8 need not
apply for riverview two- and three-bedroom apartments.
About 60 percent of the Burlington property management group's landlords
participate in Section 8, said Property Manager Michelle Lincoln. The others
want to avoid the hassle of government paperwork and an added inspection,
Johnson sued Appletree Bay and Alberts, hoping for enough money to buy her
own home. Appletree Bay -- which declined comment -- and Alberts settled.
They will pay Johnson's moving costs, waive her deposit and fix up the
apartment to meet Section 8 standards. Alberts said he wanted to avoid a
costly legal battle.
Appletree Bay also agreed to note on rental applications and other documents
that the company will not discriminate against Section 8 recipients and to
inform employees of the policy.
The recommended upgrades to Johnson's apartment include hanging an inspected
fire extinguisher in the kitchen, cleaning, replacing light fixtures, and
repairing doors and windows.
Alberts said Legal Aid used him and Johnson to try a test case to prove
refusing Section 8 is illegal.
Meris Bergquist, a Springfield-based Legal Aid lawyer, said Chittenden
County's tight housing market pushes Section 8 recipients to the bottom of
"Landlords don't have to accept every Section 8 tenant that applies, but
they can't categorically refuse to consider Section 8 recipients," said
Bergquist, who represented Johnson against Alberts and Appletree Bay.
Forcing landlords to participate in Section 8 will not help tenants, said
Paul Dett- man, director of the Burlington Housing Authority, which runs the
federal housing assistance program in the Burlington area and oversees about
1,300 Section 8 tenants.
Landlords will find a way to deny an applicant they don't want, whether
because of Section 8 or something else, Dettman said.
Requiring landlords to say yes to the program could force rents up, out of
range of Section 8 applicants, he said.
Contact Cadence Mertz at 660-1847 or firstname.lastname@example.org
**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this
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Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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