NPR: Apartment Building in NW D.C. Sued for Alleged Housing Discrimination

Apr 11, 2022


Another D.C. apartment building is being accused of housing discrimination after it allegedly turned away low-income applicants who hold rental assistance vouchers.

In a complaint filed Monday in D.C. Superior Court, the Equal Rights Center alleges that management at the Adams View apartments in Cleveland Park illegally denied housing to potential residents who receive rent assistance under the federal Housing Choice voucher program.

It's illegal in D.C. for landlords to discriminate on the basis of income source. Individuals who have Housing Choice vouchers are entitled under the law to live anywhere they wish as long as their voucher, combined with a percentage of their income, covers the rent. The Equal Rights Center, a civil rights nonprofit, is seeking declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief.

Martin Segal, an executive with building owner Adams-Cathedral LLC, did not return a voicemail seeking comment.

According to the suit, an employee with the D.C. Housing Authority told the Equal Rights Center in December that Adams View employees had informed her and a resident that the property did not accept tenants with vouchers. Per the complaint, the civil rights organization followed up by having a tester call the building in February and ask if they accepted vouchers. A representative said Adams View did not, the complaint says.

That's all it takes to trigger a fair housing case in D.C., says Matthew Handley, the attorney who filed the suit.

"For the same reason that you can't make a statement that says, 'We don't accept African Americans at this property,' you also can't make a statement that shows a preference based on one's lawful source of income," Handley says. "Just the mere making of that statement itself is actually a violation of the D.C. Human Rights Act."

Source-of-income discrimination has a disproportionate impact on Black Washingtonians because the vast majority of D.C. residents who receive federal housing assistance are Black, according to the suit. When buildings in majority-white neighborhoods like Cleveland Park don't accept vouchers, they're helping to perpetuate racial segregation, it says.

Vouchers "afford a meaningful chance for low-income residents of color to live in neighborhoods that are more diverse, provide access to better resourced schools, additional employment opportunities, and increased safety — all of which can impact a resident's economic and educational outcomes in the long-term," the complaint says.

Source-of-income discrimination remains common in D.C. despite the risk of lawsuits, Handley says. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine has filed multiple suits targeting landlords accused of turning away voucher holders. Last year, the Equal Rights Center sued a Cathedral Heights apartment building alleging a similar violation. The suits often result in settlements.

The suit against Adams View also charges the building's management company with violating the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act.

"The D.C. consumer protection law prohibits you from engaging in unfair trade practices, which include unfair landlord/tenant trade practices," Handley says. "The courts have now found in recent years that a violation of the D.C. Human Rights Act in the consumer context is itself a violation of the consumer statute."

The complaint filed today coincides with the anniversary of a landmark federal fair housing law, says Equal Rights Center Executive Director Kate Scott.

"Today marks 54 years since President Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law and in spite of that, neighborhoods in the District exhibit South African apartheid era levels of racial segregation," Scott says in a statement. "Source of income discrimination as detailed in the complaint we filed today is a primary modern-day mechanism continuing to drive those outcomes."

Adams View's website says it goes "to great lengths to comply with the Fair Housing Act," which prohibits "any preference, limitation, or discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin, or intention to make such preference, limitation or discrimination." It also mentions the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the federal law that prohibits creditors from discriminating against applicants on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, national origin, and other protected classes.

The website does not mention the D.C. Human Rights Act, which prohibits source-of-income discrimination.

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