In a victory for the rental housing industry, on July 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit again blocked a local ordinance that makes legal immigration status a requirement for entering into a residential lease, imposing penalties against both renters and property owners. The court ruled the ordinance unconstitutional because it is preempted by federal immigration law.
The Hazelton, Penn., law demands prospective residents to obtain an occupancy permit with identification proving citizenship or legal residency, and holds property owners responsible for anyone over the age of 18 who leases or resides in rental housing without a permit. Hazelton was among the first local governments in the U.S. to target undocumented individuals under the guise of housing laws.
The appeals court ruled against Hazelton in 2010, but it reconsidered the case after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld parts of an Arizona immigration law. NMHC/NAA, joined by the Apartment Association of Central Pennsylvania, the Apartment Association of Greater Philadelphia, the Western Pennsylvania Apartment Association and the Apartment Association of Pennsylvania filed an amicus brief arguing against Hazleton’s law.
This decision came only days after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled against the City of Farmers Branch, Texas, on July 22, affirming a previous decision that blocked the Dallas suburb from enforcing a 2006 ordinance requiring renters to obtain a license to confirm their immigration status and threatening criminal and civil sanctions against property owners for renting to anyone without a license (Villas at Parkside v. The City of Farmers Branch, U.S. App. (5th Cir), No. 10-10751).
In 2010, a district court struck down the ordinance as unconstitutional, but the city appealed. However, the federal appeals court ultimately determined that the Farmers Branch licensing scheme violated the federal government’s exclusive authority over immigration policy.
Both cases highlight the need for comprehensive federal immigration reform. In the absence of such reform, the current patchwork of state and local laws puts unnecessary burdens on rental apartment owners and operators, holding them responsible for the legal status of both employees and apartment residents. NMHC/NAA continue to urge Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation.