Dear Susie,

I’ve been looking for housing in Washington, DC, for my three children and me and it is so tough. It’s really hard to find three-bedroom apartments in my price range. When I do, the properties almost never have any upcoming vacancies. I’ve also started to get the impression that the leasing office employees become less hospitable to me once they hear about the size of my family. I can’t put my finger on what exactly the difference is, but the calls seem to be much shorter once I share that I have three kids. Is this discrimination or am I imagining things?


A Worn Out Parent


Hello Worn Out Parent,

Looking for affordable housing, especially for families, in Washington, DC, can be extremely difficult, and your frustration is understandable. Recent development in the District has led to the increased construction of small sized units, which has yielded a shortage of family sized units with multiple bedrooms. In fact, tenants, advocates, and lawyers recently filed a lawsuit in federal court over the issue.

In terms of one-on-one interactions, it can sometimes be hard to know if a leasing agent is discriminating against you because discrimination can be subtle. If you have noticed a significant difference in how you’re treated by leasing agents solely based on whether or not you tell them that you have children, you may have experienced illegal discrimination and I encourage you to get in touch with me so that we can conduct an intake.

One way that we may be able to help is by conducting civil rights testing, which can help determine if and how discrimination is occurring at a property. Civil rights paired testing involves two individuals posing as interested housing applicants at a property. The testers are similar in every aspect, except for the one being tested. In this case, the difference between testers would be that one has children and the other does not. The ERC would compare the testers’ experiences to see if they are provided the same information and treated similarly by the leasing agent. Significant differences in treatment may indicate that discrimination based on familial status is occurring. Familial status, or the presence of kids under 18 in a household, is a protected characteristic under the federal Fair Housing Act. That means discrimination based on your familial status is illegal and there may be remedies available to you.

You can report your experiences to the ERC by calling 202-234-3062 or by filling out a short form online. Once we conduct an intake with you, we may be able to assist with testing and even with filing a fair housing complaint. Regardless, I wish you luck with your current housing search and I hope that you’re able to find a place soon.


The Equal Rights Center

Have a question about housing discrimination in the Washington DC metro? Want to a report a potential instance of housing discrimination? Contact Susie by calling 202-234-3062.

There are many things to consider when finding a home. Discrimination isn’t one of them.

In May 2017, The ERC launched its Fair Housing Advice Column! We know many residents in the Washington, DC metro area have unique experiences in their search for safe, affordable housing. Based on our 30 plus years of detecting discrimination, we also know that your search might leave you with questions and concerns about your rights and responsibilities.

As the only full service fair housing center in Greater Washington providing direct services and advocacy to residents, we are here to lend our expertise of local fair housing laws and protections, and to ensure your search for a home is a FAIR one.

We want to hear from you! Please reach out to us with your questions, scenarios and inquiries. We will be publishing some of your entries (anonymously) with responses from our expert fair housing staff.

For immediate information on discrimination and protected classes in the Greater Washington area, please visit our Fair Housing Page. Additionally, if you feel you have experienced or witnessed housing discrimination and would like to report it, please submit a lead here.

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