Controversial Iowa law allows landlords to turn away low income residents

Bizar Male

POTTAWATTAMIE COUNTY, Iowa (WOWT) – In Iowa, landlords can decide not to accept renters who rely on federal assistance.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the bill into law Friday and it’s already getting mixed reviews.

“I think it’s unfair,” said Misty Ruff, a Council Bluff’s renter.

However, Dianne Willenborg, a landlord and board member for the Pott County Landlord Association supports the measure.

As she took our crew on a tour of one of her properties, she showed extensive damage from previous tenants.

“This wall had to be completely repainted,” she said, pointing to an area of the newly remodeled living room.

Willenborg said having the option to decide who to renter to, without being told by the federal government is about flexibility, not discrimination.

Her last tenants did not use section 8 vouchers to cover living costs, but still, Willenborg said it’s concerning if Iawmakers could take autonomy away from landlords.

Before this law, some parts of Iowa did require landlords to accept low income residents, regardless of the situation.

That’s not a predicament Willenborg wants to be in, especially since her former tenants left behind thousands of dollars in damages. She said she simply wants to be able to control who lives in her property.

“Every blind in the house had been destroyed,” said Willenborg, who said her old tenants also had a dog that used the basement as his bathroom. In addition to that, the family ruined carpet with spilled candle wax, their dog damaged other parts of the home and they just did not keep the property up, outside of normal wear and tear.

“Landlords are an independent bunch. We own the property. We wanna make the choices,” she said.

Still, what about the elephant in the room?

Is there a stigma surrounding section 8?

“In our board meetings and our larger meetings, I’ve not heard comments of that sort. We have several landlords who do take section 8 routinely. We have other landlords who have really bad experiences and then they’re done. So I really think it is an experience based thing,” said Willenborg.

Some renters call that naive and say for years section 8 has been regarded as subpar.

“They can’t afford to pay their rent or they’re not decent people,” said renter, Katelynn Kleckner, pointing to what she called an antiquated and outright wrong depiction of people who use renter assistance.

“They don’t have to look at that one item and think that you’re not good enough to live in what they own,” said Huff.

Kleckner, though, found herself on the fence when it came to whether the law was controversial. She said she could still sympathizes with landlords whom she says shoulder a lot of responsibility.

Willenborg agreed, again saying that’s why she supports the law. It gives her the freedom to focus on the quality of a tenant rather than be forced to accept someone because the government tells them to.

“We look at their treatment of their past landlord. Their past home. We just look at how responsible they are. Do they follow the rules? Regardless of whether or not they’re in section 8,” said Willenborg.

The law took effect Friday so it hasn’t even been a week. There have already been rumblings of a lawsuit for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Copyright 2021 WOWT. All rights reserved.

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