Kentucky Legislature Passes Preemption Legislation, Restricting States and Localities from Passing Tenant Protections Prohibiting Housing Discrimination

Lawmakers in Kentucky voted on March 6 to codify into law “House Bill 18,” a contentious piece of preemption legislation that targets tenant protections in the state. Under the new law, which went into effect immediately upon passage, localities are restricted from advancing or enforcing ordinances that would outlaw housing discrimination based on a renter’s verifiable and legal form of income used to pay rent, known commonly as “source-of-income” (SOI) protections. Instead, “House Bill 18” grants the power to enact SOI laws solely to the state, consequently invalidating ordinances that were previously implemented.

Existing ordinances in Louisville and Lexington were repealed as a result. Lexington’s ordinance had only been in effect for six days. In February, city leaders in Lexington voted 13-2 to advance crucial protections that would ban landlords from discriminating against a tenant based on their verifiable form of income by refusing to rent to a recipient of public assistance. The campaign to enact SOI protections was supported by tenant advocates, specifically tenant organizing group Kentucky Tenants and the Coalition for the Homeless, a previous cohort member of NLIHC’s End Rental Arrears to Stop Evictions (ERASE) project, which ran from 2021 to 2023 and sought to ensure that emergency rental assistance funds were disbursed equitably and efficiently to those renters most in need.

Speaking about the passage of Lexington’s SOI bill, George Eklund, director of education and advocacy of the Coalition for the Homeless, emphasized the role of advocates in passing the protections, noting that “as a community, Louisville worked to eliminate sources of income as a barrier to housing. The Louisville Metro Council unanimously passed an ordinance that made it illegal to automatically disqualify a person from housing because they had a housing voucher. We worked with the local apartment association, housing authority, and partners to train our community on these fair housing changes.” The bill officially went into effect for renters on March 1 before being repealed by state law.

SOI laws are a useful tool for upholding fair housing laws and ensuring that the lowest-income renters across the country can access safe, stable, and affordable housing options of their choosing. When such protections are implemented, public assistance recipients, most commonly those who participate in the Section 8 Voucher Program, are safeguarded against social biases that exist due to the presence of a housing voucher on a pending rental application. By ensuring that federal, state, and local assistance recipients are protected under a state or locality’s fair housing laws, landlords and property owners are not only prohibited from denying a prospective tenant housing solely on their payment source, but landlords and property owners cannot discriminate against a prospective tenant due to their voucher status by making it difficult to secure housing, such as by requiring a tenant to pay a larger security deposit.

Led by Representative Ryan Dotson, R-Winchester, “House Bill 18” was introduced in the state’s legislature on January 2 with overwhelming support from both House and Senate Republicans. During the two-month period leading up to the final House vote, however, the bill faced overwhelming opposition from tenant advocates, Democratic legislators, and even the Governor of Kentucky, who affirmed that the bill would disproportionately harm the lowest-income and most marginalized renters across the state, especially children and veterans. Despite the advocacy efforts conducted by tenant advocates to halt the bill, and a veto by Governor Andy Beshear that sent the bill back to both chambers for reconsideration in February, the final bill passed with 76 Senate members and 31 House members in support.

In addition to enabling landlords and property owners to deny prospective tenants housing based on their status as a voucher holder, SOI preemption laws can have other negative consequences for tenants, especially the most marginalized renters, who presently represent more than two-thirds of all voucher recipients. For voucher holders, the inability to find housing within a certain period, especially in a tight rental market with limited housing options, can put individuals at risk of having to return their voucher, which can in turn force them to rejoin a years-long waiting list to receive assistance. This reproduces a cycle of poverty for the lowest-income tenants, who are thus barred from housing opportunities they would otherwise have had without SOI laws.

“We are deeply saddened that the Kentucky General Assembly has passed ‘House Bill 18’, a bill that will preempt our source-of-income protection and invalidate the hard work our community has done to get people into housing,” said Eklund. Confirming the harms posed by the preemption bill, Ecklund noted that at the local level, “this means that our case managers, homeless families, homeless veterans, and seniors on fixed incomes will have to work three times as hard to find a home that will accept their voucher or social security income.”

With the passage of “House Bill 18,” Kentucky joins a growing number of states – including Idaho, Indiana, and Iowa– that have enacted source-of-income preemptions for localities. Idaho is the most recent jurisdiction to have enacted such prohibitions. In 2024, the Idaho Legislature passed “House Bill 545” to mandate that landlords and property owners are not required to accept a tenant’s voucher or any assistance received from participation in a federal housing assistance program, thereby creating an unfettered path for housing discrimination.

To read more about Kentucky’s preemption bill, please visit:

To learn more about source-of-income protections, please visit: