District of Columbia Wins Largest Voucher Discrimination Lawsuit in U.S. History

In a landmark resolution, Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine announced on October 20 that three D.C. real estate firms will pay $10 million for discriminating against renters who use Section 8 vouchers – the largest civil penalty in a housing discrimination case in U.S. history. The case is part of the District’s larger goal of cracking down on discrimination against voucher holders.

In 2020, D.C. filed a lawsuit against three real estate firms – DARO Management Services, DARO Realty, and Infinity Real Estate – for denying access to rental units or imposing illegal additional requirements on low-income applicants. By discriminating against Section 8 voucher holders, the firms violated civil rights and consumer-protection laws against source-of-income (SOI) discrimination as outlined in the city’s “Human Rights Act.” The three firms operated 15 buildings throughout Wards 1, 2, and 3 where D.C. officials documented illegal discriminatory practices. Company executives were documented refusing outright to accept Section 8 vouchers or other subsidies from renters enrolled in the D.C. rapid rehousing program. The firms and several of their executives are now permanently barred from managing property in the city, with one executive required to forfeit her real estate licenses for 15 years. While the defendants denied breaking the law, they agreed to the terms. The victory sends a strong warning to management companies that discriminate against voucher holders.

SOI anti-discrimination laws generally prohibit landlords from refusing to rent to households that use federal Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) or other forms of rental assistance. A 2018 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), Prohibiting Discrimination Against Renters Using Housing Vouchers Improves Results, found that in 2018 only one out of three housing voucher holders (approximately 33%) were protected by source-of-income (SOI) non-discrimination laws (see Memo, 10/22/18). Since 2018, the number of voucher holders living in places with SOI protections has increased to 57%, according to research from the Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC; see Memo, 10/11).

As part of the national HoUSed campaign, NLIHC supports strengthening and enforcing renter protections, including robust anti-discrimination laws to ensure low-income renter households can apply and lease safe, affordable, and accessible homes fairly. The “Fair Housing Improvement Act (S.4485/H.R.8213), introduced by Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Representative Scott Peters (D-CA), expands the “Fair Housing Act” to prohibit housing discrimination based on source of income and military and veteran status. NLIHC and the multi-sector Opportunity Starts at Home (OSAH) campaign support the Fair Housing Improvement Act and urge Congress to enact the bill to help protect low-income households, and veterans and servicemembers, from housing discrimination.

Read PRRAC’s “Appendix B” at: bit.ly/3fOjjgx

Read CBPP’s Prohibiting Discrimination Against Renters Using Housing Vouchers Improves Results at: bit.ly/2yzl8V2

Learn more about the Fair Housing Improvement Act: bit.ly/3gwY1E8