D.C. Property Managers Accused of Discrimination Based on Source of Income

District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine recently announced a lawsuit against two local real estate companies for violating consumer protection law through illegal housing discrimination. The complaint alleged that the companies, which own and manage residential properties in the District, refused to show or rent available properties to prospective residents who receive housing assistance from the federal government.

More than 10,500 low-income District households depend on the federally funded Housing Choice Voucher program, commonly called “Section 8” vouchers, to afford homes. The voucher program allows low-income families to rent housing in the private market at market rates and is intended to give these families more choices than traditional public housing.

The District’s Human Rights Act outlaws housing discrimination based on source of income, so landlords cannot refuse to rent to prospective tenants simply because they rely on vouchers. Despite this protection, a recent study showed that 15 percent of district landlords still refused to accept vouchers, according to officials.

In the lawsuit, the companies are accused of illegally refusing to show or rent property to prospects who intended to use housing vouchers. Specifically, the complaint alleges that the companies:

  • Discriminated against voucher-holders in their advertising and communications: In advertisements on its website and other online platforms, the companies allegedly stated they didn’t accept housing vouchers. And company representatives allegedly verbally communicated that the companies didn’t accept housing vouchers at their rental properties.
  • Prevented voucher recipients from viewing and leasing rental properties: The companies used an online form to allow prospects to schedule showings of available units. Allegedly, any prospective resident who indicated he or she planned to use Section 8 vouchers to pay the rent was automatically denied the opportunity to view the properties.

“Many District of Columbia residents receive subsidies, including housing vouchers, to assist them in meeting the high cost of living in our city,” Racine said in a statement. “It is illegal to deny housing opportunities to District residents who use subsidies or vouchers to pay for their rent. Today’s lawsuit is a warning to entities that denying housing on the basis of source of income is discriminatory, illegal, and will not be tolerated.”

For more information on where source-of-income discrimination is illegal and guidance on how to avoid running afoul of laws banning it, see “How to Comply with Laws Banning Discrimination Based on Source of Income,” available to Coach subscribers here.