D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine sued seven landlords and property managers in Wards 4 and 8 today for discriminating against tenants based on their race, disabilities, and sources of income. Each are among the 21 traits protected by the D.C. Human Rights Act according to a press release by the Office of the Attorney General. The OAG pursues these cases in partnership with the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights.
Two of the three lawsuits involve discrimination against persons using housing assistance as a source of income for rent.
“The law is 100% clear, that is the discrimination based on one’s … source of income is illegal,” Racine said in an interview with Street Sense Media. “Landlords must accept vouchers as much as cash.”
These housing vouchers, also called “Section 8” vouchers help roughly 10,500 low-income families avoid homelessness.
In one, prospective tenant Markita Sligh relied on the Housing Choice Voucher Program and would require approval from a landlord to use it for her security deposit. Property owner Afolake O-Shokunbi denied Sligh’s request and barred her from leasing the property in Ward 4, according to OAG.
Another lawsuit claims realty group Porter House LLC and their agent Amaka “Vanessa” Akinola stated housing vouchers would not be accepted as rent on an advertisement in late July.
“[Vouchers and subsidies] should be treated equally as any other form of payment,” said Michelle Thomas, Chief of Civil Rights section at OAG. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that [discrimination] doesn’t exist in the District.”
O-Shokunbi allegedly told Sligh, a Black woman, that she “never had any problems with my white tenants.” Sligh accuses O-Shokunbi of ultimately denying tenancy based on her race.
The press release notes that 90% of individuals using housing assistance in D.C. are African American. However, the Census Bureau estimated that less than half of the District’s overall population identified as African American last year.
“There is a disparate number of voucher holders who are Black and brown,” Racine said. By fighting against housing discrimination, he believe minorities “will also have an opportunity to live in the District of Columbia.”
Racine is also pursuing a lawsuit against owner KEM Associates and property manager Delwin Realty for denying accommodation to a disabled tenant in Ward 8. Delwin employees Gary Evans and Jamaal Opie are accused of repeatedly denying their tenant Artricia Morton a designated disability parking space, telling her instead to move to “another community” or senior housing.
“These lawsuits once again emphasize that we will work collaboratively with our government partners to hold discriminatory landlords and property managers accountable,” Racine stated in the press release.
Protection of housing assistance programs has steadily strengthened, including a D.C.’s Superior Court ruling in 2018 that clarified local housing subsidy programs are guarded by the same law that mandates acceptance of Housing Choice vouchers. OAG also proposed legislation in February to clarify that their authority to enforce the act, subpoena and seek restitution is permanent.
Tenants facing housing discrimination can file complaints on the OHR website or call 202-727-4559.