D.C. Landlord Lists “KKK” as Potential Referral Source in Online Application

By Aastha Uprety
June 12, 2019

Imagine you are applying for housing online. You find a property you like and proceed to fill out the virtual application. “How did you hear about us?”, it asks. You scroll through the dropdown menu and do a double-take—one of the options is “KKK”.

This is exactly what happened to a D.C. resident hoping to rent an apartment at Chevy Chase Towers, a property owned by Alvin L. Aubinoe, Inc., a real estate management company operating in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area.

Yesterday, local CBS affiliate WUSA9 ran this story about the situation, which raises grave fair housing related concerns.

A text message asks "what organization is this highlighted?" and the response says "that is a typo that our marketing department needs to address."
The client sent a text message to the property management company that reads, “what organization is this highlighted?” The company’s response reads “that is a typo that our marketing department needs to address.” | Source: WUSA9

When most people see the letters KKK, they immediately think of the Ku Klux Klan, one of the most prolific white supremacist hate groups in the history of the country. From its founding in the 19th century through today, the actions of the KKK have terrorized African American men and women, including through physical violence and the use of its notorious initials in attacks on and the murder of African Americans and other marginalized groups. Hate violence has been on the rise in recent years, including through the use of KKK flyers and symbols as methods of striking fear in communities of color around the country.

WUSA9 reporter Whitney Wild asked our client, “[S]eeing those three letters, what is the message that that sends to you?”

“That I’m not wanted,” she replied. “That I’m not good enough, that I don’t deserve to be in that place. It is a big flashing ‘do not come here, we won’t want you.’”

Even if this was an error on the part of the management company, accidentally listing the deadliest hate group in U.S. history as one of your common referral sources is not a harmless mistake. The practice raises significant fair housing concerns. It’s illegal for a housing provider to make discriminatory statements in relation to a protected group, including on the basis of race. A statement such as this indicates a preference or limitation as to race, and discourages African-Americans from attempting to apply. By indicating that a common way applicants learn about an apartment complex is through the KKK, the housing website could be intentionally or unintentionally causing significant fear among potential applicants of color, particularly African American applicants. This can dissuade them from applying and essentially screen out Black applicants from the application process, which is illegal under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

It’s notable that only the applications for properties in overwhelmingly white neighborhoods had the KKK option in their dropdown menus. In addition to three properties in white neighborhoods with KKK listed, the website also featured two properties in majority-Black areas. But neither of those applications had the same issue. This could steer applicants away from majority-white neighborhoods and toward majority-Black neighborhoods, promoting the intense racial segregation that Washington, D.C. already suffers from.

The letters KKK have finally been removed from the website, months after the company was notified of the issue. However, their belated attempt to fix the problem is not enough. “There are certainly questions that I think the housing provider needs to answer,” ERC Deputy Director Kate Scott said to WUSA9. Among other steps, the ERC has asked Aubinoe to pay damages to the affected client, conduct civil rights compliance testing, and affirmatively market their properties in neighborhoods with high African American populations.

The District often prides itself on being inclusive, but instances like these show that racism is still deeply woven into the fabric of the city. When choosing a place to live, safety is a top concern for everybody. African American applicants are not likely to feel safe in an apartment complex that advertises the KKK as a referral source. While this may just be one incident, it reflects broader patterns of segregation and racial discrimination in the D.C. housing market that must be addressed.

A question on a website reads "how did you hear about us?"

A dropdown menu on a website displays a list of options, including "KKK".Screenshots of an Aubinoe online housing application with “KKK” as a referral option under the question, “How did you hear about us?”.

Aastha Uprety is a Research and Communications Assistant at the ERC.

If you believe you may have experienced discrimination in housing, you can contact the Equal Rights Center. To report your experience, please call 202-234-3062 or email info@equalrightscenter.org.

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