Legal Review: DC Landlord Lawsuit Over Housing Discrimination

The D.C. Attorney General, Karl Racine, has filed three lawsuits against seven real estate companies and professionals for alleged housing discrimination. The parties named in the suit primarily operate properties in Wards 4 and 8, with six of the parties registered in D.C. and one of the parties registered in Maryland.

“The alleged behavior noted in these lawsuits violates the Human Rights Act,” says Attorney Seth Price of Price Benowitz LLP. ” This act strictly prohibits landlords from denying individuals equal access to housing on the grounds of 21 protected traits, which include race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability and source of income.” Two of the lawsuits came as direct referrals from the D.C. Office of Human Rights, which has recently made efforts to follow a stricter enforcement of the Human Rights Act across the city.

Denying Housing Based on Race

In one of the lawsuits, the District Attorney’s Office (DAO) alleges that a D.C. landlord of a rowhouse unit located at 3929 13th Street NW in Ward 4 discriminated against a prospective Black tenant on the basis of race. The lawsuit accuses the landlord of indicating that they had a preference for white tenants and making discriminatory statements against the individual.

The prospective tenant, who participates in the housing choice voucher program, stated that the landlord refused to provide an approval letter that the individual needed in order to receive payment assistance for their security deposit.

Rejecting Section 8 Applicants

In another lawsuit, District Attorney Racine alleges that a real estate agent of Porter House International Realty Group engaged in source of income discrimination against a prospective tenant. The rental property, located at 615 Galveston Street, SE in Ward 8, is owned by Porter House and included the statement “No Section 8,” in its description for the rental property that was listed on Craigslist. Section 8 concerns housing vouchers that meant to assist low-income families, the elderly, and those who are disabled.

The lawsuit is looking to hold both the real estate agent and the company responsible for the alleged income discriminatory advertisement.

Dismissing Accommodation Requests

Lastly, the third lawsuit alleges that KEM Associates and two employees of property management company Delwin Realty discriminated against a current tenant of Hillcrest House in Ward 8 due to their disability. The rental property is owned by KEM Associates but managed by Delwin Realty.

The tenant, who suffers from a mobility issue, stated that they had requested a designated disability parking spot that was located within 200 feet of their apartment entrance, but the Delwin Realty employees denied their request and allegedly urged the tenant to instead move to a different living community. This denial of request violates the reasonable accommodation clause in the Human Rights Act.

Seeking a Court Decision

In these three lawsuits, the Office of the Attorney General is seeking a court order to hold the defendants responsible for not adhering to the Human Rights Act. Additionally, Attorney General Racine is requesting restitution for the alleged victims of these discriminatory acts.

During his tenure, Attorney General Racine has been historically strict against landlords who have violated the Human Rights Act and denied housing to individuals as a result. Earlier this year, Racine had filed lawsuits against 16 property owners and landlords largely concerning advertisements that stated they would not rent to individuals who participated in the housing voucher program.

Impact of COVID-19 on Housing

This has only exacerbated the current housing crisis that has come as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The District is currently seeing increased rates of individuals in need of housing assistance in order to afford rising rent prices, amidst the current housing shortage and stagnant economy.

A bill aimed at increasing the penalties that landlords would face for refusing to rent to tenants solely due to their participation in rental assistance programs is currently under review by the D.C. Council.

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