Real Estate

Zillow Expands Renter Protections Tool

Zillow is expanding its Local Legal Protections tool to help renters fight discrimination, the company announced on Thursday.

With the expanded tool, Zillow will now be able to provide renters with source of income and voucher discrimination protection data on all of the company’s rental listings. The new “data-powered resource” will show renters whether or not their state or local laws provide protection from discrimination based on how they pay rent, whether that’s through job wages, a Housing Choice Voucher (also known as Section 8) or other forms of income like alimony or disability.

Zillow’s Local Legal Protections tool | Credit: Zillow

In June 2020, the Local Legal Protections tool was launched on Zillow.com to assist LGBTQ+ renters and homebuyers when searching for their next home by showing whether or not for-sale and rental listings are located in communities where state and local regulations explicitly protect individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender from discrimination.

Although federal law does not prohibit landlords from rejecting housing vouchers, several state and municipal laws do prohibit such discrimination against renters who use vouchers. As of late December 2020, 49.3 percent of rental listings in the U.S. were located in regions with laws prohibiting discrimination against renters who use vouchers, according to Zillow.

“Zillow is building an inclusive rental platform, developing products that make rental listings accessible to all renters,” Christopher Roberts, senior vice president and general manager of Zillow Rentals, said in a statement. “By expanding Local Legal Protections, we are empowering renters and educating property owners about local voucher discrimination protections — and hopefully removing a barrier for people shopping for a new place to call home.”

While vouchers can serve as a lifeline for low-income renters, many assistance programs are underfunded and struggling to keep up with demand. During 2019, housing vouchers were undersupplied to severely cost-burdened renters (those who spend 50 percent or more of their income on housing) by a figure of nearly four to one, or 9.7 million households to 2.6 million available vouchers.

However in certain markets like Orlando, Austin and Houston, the deficit of vouchers is even greater with nearly 10 times as many severely cost-burdened renter households as there are available vouchers, according to Zillow.

According to recent market data from Zillow, the value of vouchers has also lagged compared to the rising cost of rents. Out of 303 counties Zillow analyzed in the largest 100 metro areas with sufficient rental price data, 44 percent saw market-rate rents increase at a greater rate than voucher values between 2015 and 2020.

The negative economic fallout of the pandemic has also disproportionately impacted renters, a large portion of whom tend to work in high-contact jobs, and are therefore facing increased job uncertainty.

Email Lillian Dickerson

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