D.C. Property Managers Accused of Unlawfully Refusing to Rent to Voucher Holders

In a lawsuit filed last week, fair housing advocates accused a D.C.-based residential property management firm with violating the D.C. Human Rights Act and the federal Fair Housing Act for discriminatory rental practices.

In its complaint, the Equal Rights Center (ERC) alleged that the property managers unlawfully refused to rent available units in properties located in the Northwest quadrant of the District to recipients of Housing Choice Vouchers. Formerly known as Section 8 vouchers, Housing Choice Vouchers are subsidies designed to help low-income individuals and families obtain housing by permitting individuals to offset a portion of their rent with a voucher.

Administered by local authorities as part of a larger federal program, the Housing Choice Voucher program was designed to permit low-income individuals and families to obtain housing outside of areas of concentrated poverty and to obtain greater access to quality economic and educational opportunities. In the District, however, ERC says that the majority of voucher holders reside in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty.

The complaint alleges that the property management company’s refusal to make its properties available to voucher holders thwarts the underlying goals of the Housing Choice Voucher program and is expressly prohibited by the D.C. Human Rights Act, which makes it illegal to discriminate based on sources of income.

In addition, the complaint alleges that the company’s practices disproportionately affect African Americans, who make up the vast majority of voucher holders in the District. Citing data attached to its complaint, the ERC says the company’s refusal to rent to voucher holders is 71 times more likely to exclude African-American renters than white renters. As a result, the ERC alleged that the refusal to rent to voucher holders also violates the ban on race discrimination under D.C. and federal fair housing law.