Seven D.C. RE Firms and Professionals Accused of Housing Discrimination

District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine recently announced that his office has filed three lawsuits alleging housing discrimination by seven real estate companies and professionals operating in the district.

The District’s Human Rights Act (DCHRA) broadly outlaws discrimination based on traits including race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and disability. The law also specifically prohibits housing discrimination based on source of income, meaning that landlords cannot refuse to rent to prospective tenants if they use vouchers to pay rent.

Following referrals from the District’s Office of Human Rights, the Attorney General’s office filed the lawsuit alleging that the defendants violated the DCHRA by:

Discriminating based on race and color: The first lawsuit alleged that a D.C. landlord refused to rent a property to a prospect because of her race and color. Allegedly, the landlord indicated a preference for white tenants in conversations with a Black prospect looking to rent the defendant’s property. The prospect, who at the time had custody over her 16-year-old daughter, 10-year-old niece, 5-year-old nephew, and 3-year-old granddaughter, participated in the Housing Choice Voucher program, and required security deposit payment assistance. The lawsuit claimed that the defendant refused to provide an approval letter that the prospect needed to receive such assistance, halting the rental process and barring her from leasing the property because of her race.

Discriminating based on disability: The second lawsuit alleged the property owner and its property management company discriminated against a resident with a mobility impairment by denying her request for a parking accommodation. Allegedly, the community had three disability spaces in its parking lot, but there were seven residents with disability parking placards. The complaint alleged that the defendants repeatedly denied the resident’s request for a designated disability parking space within 200 feet of her unit, and instead urged her to move to “another community” or to senior housing.

Discriminating based on source of income: The third lawsuit challenged an online advertisement for a property that contained a discriminatory statement against residents who use housing vouchers. Allegedly the Craigslist posting for the unit noted “No Section 8” in the property’s description.

“The Office of the Attorney General is collaborating with the Office of Human Rights to enforce the District’s Human Rights Act—which offers some of the country’s strongest civil rights protections,” Racine said in a statement. “The DCHRA prohibits property owners from denying residents equal access to affordable, decent housing over traits such as race, source of income, and disability. These lawsuits once again emphasize that we will work collaboratively with our government partners to hold discriminatory landlords and property managers accountable.”

For more information about source-of-income discrimination, see the October 2020 lesson, “Legal Update: Recent Developments in Fair Housing Law,” available to subscribers here.