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Tenant Sues Santa Monica Landlord to Stay in Her Home of 38 Years

“Protections against discrimination like this are an important tool for addressing our statewide housing crisis,” said Matt Warren, Attorney at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, which also represents St. James. “Housing choice vouchers are essential for many people with low-incomes to keep a roof over their head, and to stay above water. California in particular cannot afford for landlords to refuse qualified tenants who are able to pay rent using vouchers.”



PRESS RELEASE: Tenant Sues Santa Monica Landlord to Stay in Her Home of 38 Years


Suit alleges source-of-income discrimination and tenant harassment;
landlord refuses to accept rent subsidy

LOS ANGELES – A 72-year-old woman with disabilities who has lived in the same Santa Monica studio for 38 years has filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against her landlords. In the suit filed Monday, St. James v. Bills, tenant Zandra St. James charges that her landlord violated state law by refusing to accept her housing choice voucher to offset her monthly rent. As a result, Ms. St. James faces eviction.

Ms. St. James’ apartment is rent-controlled, but with annual incremental increases. The rent has risen to the point that it now demands more than 90 percent of her monthly Social Security disability check. She was awarded a housing choice voucher in 2019 and immediately sought to use the subsidy to help pay her rent for the home she loves. The complaint alleges that the landlord refused to accept the voucher.

“I was very happy to receive my Section 8 voucher after years of waiting,” said Ms. St. James. “I am hopeful that through this process, I will be able to use my voucher so I can afford to live in the home where I have lived for most of my life. I hope my case will help many others who are in similar situations.”

The housing choice voucher program, often referred to as “Section 8,” provides tenant-based rental assistance. Low-income tenants who receive housing choice vouchers pay 30 percent of their monthly income to the landlord for rent. Local housing authorities, which administer the program, pay the remainder directly to the landlord.

“The housing choice voucher program is designed to expand housing opportunities for low-income renters of all kinds,” said Denise McGranahan, Senior Attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, which represents Ms. St. James. “It is also critical that low-income seniors like Ms. St. James can age in place. If Ms. St. James’ landlord is able to refuse her voucher, she will be priced out of one of the few below-market units left in Santa Monica. The voucher is her lifeline to stay in her long-term home and to continue to live independently in the community.”

Landlord refusals to accept tenants with government-guaranteed rental payments leave many tenants unable to find affordable housing. Additionally, landlord refusal is often discrimination-by-proxy against racial minorities, who are disproportionately represented among voucher-holders across the country and in California.

To address this issue in the midst of the state’s housing and homelessness crisis, the California Legislature passed SB 329 last year, which prohibits discrimination against tenants based on the use of subsidies like the housing choice voucher. Prior to SB 329, the City of Santa Monica already had a similar local ordinance.

“Protections against discrimination like this are an important tool for addressing our statewide housing crisis,” said Matt Warren, Attorney at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, which also represents Ms. St. James. “Housing choice vouchers are essential for many people with low-incomes to keep a roof over their head, and to stay above water. California in particular cannot afford for landlords to refuse qualified tenants who are able to pay rent using vouchers.”

The complaint alleges that Ms. Bills’ refusal to accept the housing choice voucher is based in part on a desire to force Ms. St. James to leave. Since Ms. James is a long-standing tenant with stabilized rent below the area median rate, the landlords have an incentive to pressure her to leave, which is an eviction that would otherwise not be allowed under Santa Monica’s renter protections. If evicted, it is likely that Ms. St. James will have extreme difficulty locating adequate, stable housing to meet her needs.

The lawsuit names as defendants apartment owner WIB Holdings, Inc. and its principal, Barbara Bills. The City of Santa Monica has also sued Ms. Bills and WIB Holdings for the same discriminatory refusal to accept Ms. St. James’ voucher.

Ms. St. James seeks to remain stably housed, and to ensure that other voucher holders avoid unfair refusals by landlords.

Read the full complaint here.

Sara Williams, (323) 801-7996, sjwilliams[at]


About Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) seeks to achieve equal justice for people living in poverty across Greater Los Angeles. LAFLA changes lives through direct representation, systems change and community empowerment. It has five offices in Los Angeles County, along with four Self-Help Legal Access Centers at area courthouses and three domestic violence clinics to aid survivors.

About Western Center on Law & Poverty
Western Center on Law & Poverty fights for justice and system-wide change to secure housing, health care, racial justice and a strong safety net for low-income Californians. Western Center attains real-world, policy solutions for clients through litigation, legislative and policy advocacy, and technical assistance and legal support for the state’s legal aid programs. Western Center is California’s oldest and largest legal services support center.

It’s Now Illegal For LA Landlords To Deny Housing Vouchers — But Some Still Are

“That’s definitely a violation of this law,” said Sasha Harnden, a housing policy advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty. He advocated for the passage of the statewide voucher anti-discrimination law, SB-329, which went into effect on Jan. 1.

“Any advertisements that are still out there that say ‘No Section 8’ or ‘No Housing Assistance’ are a pretty clear violation of this new protection,” he said.

Read more


Western Center’s 2019 Budget & Legislative Victories

16 Western Center bills were signed by Governor Gavin Newsom this year, marking huge wins for California. Of note are two renter protection bills, AB 1482, now one of the nation’s most expansive anti-rent gouging and just cause for eviction laws, and SB 329, which prohibits discrimination against housing voucher holders.

For health care, SB 464 will require perinatal health providers to undergo implicit bias training to address the maternal mortality rate for black women in California, which is 4-5 times higher than it is for white women. For financial security, SB 616 outlaws the ability of debt collectors to drain people’s bank accounts, leaving them without funds for necessary day-to-day expenses. These legislative victories are in addition to big wins achieved in the state budget earlier this year.

See the full suite of Western Center’s 2019 budget and legislative victories below!

Western Center’s Housing Bills Become Law, Creating Landmark Renter Protections for Californians

By Madeline Howard, Western Center housing attorney

This week, Governor Newsom signed two historic renter protections into California law, both of which Western Center proudly co-sponsored, both decades in the making.

Assemblymember David Chiu’s AB 1482 is getting most of the attention because it establishes something many housing advocates never thought we would see in California – statewide protection from “no cause” evictions, and anti-rent gouging protections. Without these protections, most California landlords could evict a tenant without stating a reason – even long-term tenants who always paid their rent on time and followed all of the rules. And across the state, we’ve seen Californians indirectly evicted from their homes when rents are raised by 50, even 100 percent. The passage of AB 1482 will halt this unsustainable trajectory to keep more people in their homes.

The second of our bills that was signed into law is Senator Holly Mitchell’s SB 329. SB 329 was also an uphill battle, because so many people have unfounded negative perceptions about the federal housing voucher program, and many landlords openly state “No Section 8” in their rental listings.* SB 329 will prevent that from now on. Just as landlords are not permitted to discriminate against rental applicants because of things like race and gender, now California has outlawed discrimination based on a person’s use of housing assistance to pay the rent.

If you are wondering why SB 329 is such a big deal, let me explain. Remember the horrifying photos of a suburban police officer in Texas kneeling on a young black girl’s back as she cried, face down on the grass, in her bathing suit? Someone in the mostly-white neighborhood had called the police on the group of black teenagers for being “rowdy.” Why am I reminding you of yet another ugly incident of police brutality, violent racism, and white supremacy? Because one of those white neighbors reportedly yelled, “Go back to your Section 8 housing!”

SB 329 matters because it addresses this kind of racism head on. While our fair housing laws have long made it illegal for landlords to refuse to rent to someone because of their race, California landlords were still free to say “No Section 8.”

In a chilling echo of the blatant discrimination that dominated centuries of American history, many signs and online rental listings openly say “no dogs, no Section 8.” SB 329 is important not just because it will help low income people who rely on housing vouchers actually access housing of their choice (which is hugely important on its own), but also because it addresses an ugly vestige of our deeply racist housing industry.

Our amazing housing policy advocate Sasha Harnden worked tirelessly to get SB 329 into place, because in his time as a legal services attorney in LA, he saw firsthand how clients were repeatedly turned away from housing because of landlords’ “No Section 8” policies. We are hopeful that despite the continuous rollback of civil rights on the federal level, this step forward for California will help thousands of people find and keep stable, safe, affordable housing with their vouchers, and that SB 329 will be a powerful tool for combating housing discrimination. There is so much more work to be done, but with this law we move closer to tackling segregation and racist, exclusionary practices in housing.

Just as California takes huge steps to address discrimination in housing, the Trump administration threatens to undermine decades of Civil Rights protections under the Fair Housing Act by gutting the Disparate Impact rule. To get involved in the fight to stop this civil rights rollback, visit

In California, we are deeply grateful to Senator Holly Mitchell for her incredible leadership on the issue of housing voucher discrimination, and I am immensely proud of my colleagues in Sacramento, Sasha Harnden and Anya Lawler, who worked so hard to make these bills happen. In the midst of the state’s housing crisis, people shouldn’t be turned away from stable housing because they need rental assistance. California is an expensive state to live in, and it’s only getting worse. The relief renters can access through various federal, state, and local housing voucher programs is an important tool in California’s fight to keep people housed and off the street. I am so proud to be a part of the team that made these historic wins happen, and I am excited to see what we can build on from here.


* The federal housing choice voucher program was previously known as “Section 8” and many people still refer to it that way.