Equal Rights Center: Equal Rights Center Sues District Housing Provider for Unlawful, Overly Broad Tenant Screening Criteria

Apr 25, 2024

(Washington, D.C.) — The Equal Rights Center (“ERC”) filed a lawsuit suit in D.C. Superior Court this morning against property management company Vesta Corporation (“Vesta”), alleging that the company unlawfully discriminates against applicants who have housing vouchers, past evictions, and criminal records. According to the suit, Vesta’s policies and practices violate the D.C. Human Rights Act (DCHRA), the D.C. Rental Housing Act, the D.C. Fair Criminal Record Screening for Housing Act of 2016 (DCFCRSHA), and the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act (DCCPPA).

In 2023, the ERC discovered that the website and rental application for 800 Southern Avenue Apartments, a multi-family building in D.C. managed by Vesta, state that its tenant eligibility criteria include, “No previous evictions for lease violations” and “No criminal record.” A subsequent investigation revealed similar concerns at three more Vesta properties in the District.

D.C. law prohibits housing providers from considering a prospective tenant’s eviction record if it is sealed or if it is over three years old. D.C. law also prohibits housing providers from considering criminal convictions that are more than seven years old.

ERC Executive Director Kate Scott remarks, “Overly broad tenant screening requirements based on prior evictions and criminal records drive housing instability, homelessness, and discrimination in housing. To reject any and all applicants with evictions or criminal records is not just misguided and harmful to our community, it’s illegal.”

The ERC’s complaint also alleges that Vesta discriminates against individuals and families with vouchers by requiring vouchers to cover the entirety of the monthly rent for units within the voucher allowance, requiring that vouchers not expire during the lease term, and by considering voucher holders’ credit and rental histories from before they received their vouchers, in violation of D.C. law.

The Housing Choice Voucher Program is a federally funded housing subsidy program, which currently provides assistance to approximately two million families nationwide, including over ten thousand families in the District. The program’s intent is to eliminate barriers that would restrict low-income families from securing housing in high opportunity neighborhoods. As 95 percent of voucher holders in D.C. are Black residents, vouchers can also play a crucial role in reducing segregation. However, widespread source of income discrimination forces voucher holders to accept subpar housing in segregated neighborhoods, or risk losing their vouchers altogether.

Scott adds, “The barriers imposed by Vesta’s screening criteria prevent qualified applicants from securing housing and frustrate the voucher program’s promise. By taking this action today, we hope to ensure that renters with vouchers, prior evictions, and criminal records can get the fair shot at housing they deserve.”

The ERC is represented by Matthew Handley and Martha Guarnieri of Handley Farah & Anderson.

The case name is Equal Rights Center v. Vesta Corp, et al., Superior Court of Washington, D.C.

The complaint is available at this link

Kate Scott, Executive Director
Equal Rights Center
[email protected], (202) 370-3220

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