LAW 360: DC AG, Civil Rights Group Settle Voucher Bias Claims

Jan 02, 2024

By Isaac Monterose - 2023-12-12

The attorney general of the District of Columbia and a D.C. civil rights group settled their claims Tuesday accusing a real estate developer, a property management software company, and other parties of refusing to rent to prospective tenants who use housing vouchers to fully or partially pay rent, according to a joint announcement.

According to Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb and the Equal Rights Center, property management software company Entrata Inc., property management companies Barkan Management Company Inc. and Broadhouse Management Group LLC, developer Adams Investment Group LLC, and building owner Adams-Cathedral LLC agreed to pay $235,000 to settle the claims. The civil rights group will receive $220,000 and $15,000 will go to D.C., according to the consent agreement.

The agreement also comes with other requirements, such as the defendants having to undergo the Equal Rights Center's compliance tests for the D.C. properties that they're involved with.

The allegations involved the Adams View Apartments in Washington, D.C., and none of the defendants admitted to any alleged wrongdoing, according to the consent agreement. In its suit filed April 2022 in D.C. court, the Equal Rights Center accused the apartment building's manager, Adams Investment Group, and its owner, Adams-Cathedral, of refusing to rent to voucher holders. The companies also discriminated against Black renters, since most voucher holders in D.C. are Black, according to the civil rights group.

D.C. entered the suit after the presiding court granted its motion to intervene in December 2022, according to the suit's docket. An amended version of the suit claimed Broadhouse Management Group was the former property manager of the apartment building until Barkan Management Company became the company's successor and obtained its agreement with Entrata.

"With affordable housing increasingly scarce across the city, my office will continue to vigorously enforce D.C.'s anti-discrimination laws in order to bridge equity gaps that too often prevent all Washingtonians from having access to an affordable place to live," Attorney General Schwalb said in the statement for the consent agreement. "The Equal Rights Center deserves enormous credit for initiating this case — today's outcome provides strong relief not just for D.C. residents, but for tenants across the country who may have fallen victim to these illegal, discriminatory practices."

The Equal Rights Center's executive director, Kate Scott, said in the announcement: "Discrimination against voucher holders is unfair, illegal, and keeps our communities segregated. This agreement we are announcing today represents progress in our fight to make the process of finding a new home in the district more equitable, and I'm grateful to the Office of the Attorney General for their partnership in this effort."

Barkan's counsel Christina A. Ferrari of Bernstein Shur Law Firm said in a statement Tuesday to Law360: "While Barkan Management Company Inc. was not involved with the subject property in any way at the time of the Equal Rights Center's testing and the alleged resulting violations, we support the Equal Rights Center's mission and work regarding fair housing and other laws in the District of Columbia. Barkan Management Company has a long history in affordable housing and is committed to ensuring people of all means and all types of diversity have access to equal and fair opportunities for safe, decent housing free from unlawful discrimination."

Counsel for the other defendants did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

D.C. is represented by Samantha Hall of the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia.

The Equal Rights Center is represented by Matthew K. Handley of Handley Farah & Anderson PLLC.

Adams Investment Group and Adams-Cathedral are represented by David L. Rubino of McCarthy Wilson LLP.

Barkan Management Company is represented by Chad W. Higgins and Christina A. Ferrari of Bernstein Shur Law Firm.

Broadhouse Management Group is represented by Channing L. Shor of Eccleston & Wolf PC.

Entrata is represented by Jennifer M. Keas of Foley & Lardner LLP.

The case is Equal Rights Center v. Adams Investment Group LLC et al., case number 2022-CA-001582-R(RP), in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

--Editing by Janice Carter Brown.

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