Three D.C. real estate companies will pay a historic $10 million fine for refusing to rent to people with housing vouchers, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine announced at a press conference on Oct. 20.
The fine is the largest ever civil penalty in a housing discrimination case in U.S. history, Racine said. His office will collect the money as part of a settlement in a 2020 lawsuit against DARO Management Services, DARO Realty and Infinity Real Estate.
The suit is part of the attorney general’s attempt to enforce a set of D.C. laws that make it illegal to refuse to rent to people with vouchers, charge them higher rates or treat them differently from other tenants. Despite these legal protections, the roughly 20,000 households who rent with vouchers consistently experience discrimination when looking for a place to live.
“DARO Management Services, DARO Realty, and Infinity Real Estate conspired, worked, made money off of preventing people who receive housing assistance from renting their apartments in 15 buildings across Northwest Washington D.C.,” Racine said. “Think about the damage that caused.”
During the 2020 suit, Racine’s office discovered the companies charged voucher holders additional application and move-in fees, which may have prevented them from moving into more expensive neighborhoods. Additionally, DARO refused to rent to people participating in housing programs such as D.C.’s Rapid Rehousing and permanent supportive housing programs.
By avoiding renting to voucher holders, Racine’s office said these companies were violating the city’s Human Rights Act. One executive and defendant, Carissa Barry, wrote in an email “off the record I am doing everything I can to reduce if not eliminate the section 8 program from our communities.”
Another defendant, Jared Engel wrote in an email that if DARO had to rent to people with vouchers, employees should make sure to put them in older units. The companies also posted discriminatory housing ads and implemented rental standards to intended to exclude people with vouchers.
In addition to paying the fine, DARO must dissolve its property management company and transition management of its buildings to another company within the next year and a half. The OAG will use the money it collects from the fine to prosecute similar cases.
Other voucher holders who think they have experienced housing discrimination can report it online, or by calling (202)727-4904.
This article has been updated to include a new number for the attorney general’s office.