FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 1, 2024
D.C. Civil Rights Powerhouse Sues Northwest D.C. Apartment Complexes for Tenant Screening Discrimination
Investigations Revealed That Logan Circle & McLean Gardens Neighborhood Apartments Discriminated Against Voucher Holders, 95% of Whom Are Black Residents
Washington, D.C. – The Equal Rights Center (ERC) has alleged that two upscale D.C. apartment complexes, Latrobe Apartment Homes in Logan Circle and Vaughan Place in McLean Gardens, discriminated against potential tenants using vouchers. The lawsuit, filed today in D.C. Superior Court, also alleges that Air Communities, the owner and manager of the complexes, created unlawful barriers for applicants who have criminal records more than 7 years old and evictions more than 3 years old.
The ERC claims that applicants with government-issued vouchers face unfair and unlawful requirements, including meeting minimum credit scores and income requirements, and that the defendants applied overbroad eviction and criminal history screenings, which significantly restricted applicants from securing housing at the rental properties.
Housing Choice Vouchers are a form of housing assistance subsidized by the federal government. Under D.C.’s fair housing laws, it is illegal for a landlord to discriminate against residents for how they pay their rent. Vouchers allow thousands of residents greater access to housing throughout the District, thereby helping to reduce segregation throughout the District’s neighborhoods and stimulate economic opportunities for residents.
The D.C. statutes under which Equal Rights Center v. Air Communities, Vaughan Place, et al. was filed were enacted in part to address race-based housing discrimination in the District.
“Discrimination against voucher holders further entrenches the racial segregation that has characterized D.C. neighborhoods for decades,” said Kate Scott, Equal Rights Center Executive Director. “Banning residents from housing on the basis of their stale evictions, irrelevant criminal histories, or voucher status are some of the most egregious, harmful modern day civil rights violations, and we are steadfast in our resolve to fight against such practices.”
Between 2022 and 2023, the ERC conducted an investigation to determine whether the defendants engaged in discriminatory and unlawful rental behaviors. The testing was in response to allegedly discriminatory statements on the Latrobe Apartment Homes’ and Vaughan Place’s websites, which read that applicants will be disqualified based on felony convictions and previous evictions. These statements, which have since been removed from the respective websites, violate several of D.C.’s consumer protection and fair housing laws.
“The claims brought in this case underscore how imperative it is to eradicate discrimination in all its forms and to make sure that residents of the District have a fair shot at finding safe and decent housing in the neighborhoods of their choice,” said Brian Corman, Partner at Cohen Milstein. “Housing vouchers help reduce housing instability and homelessness. We look forward to proceeding with these claims in court.”
The Housing Choice Voucher Program, formerly known as Section 8, is a federally funded housing subsidy program that currently provides rental and housing assistance to approximately 2 million families in the U.S. and 11,500 low-income families in D.C.. Under the program, Voucher holders are free to choose any housing in the rental market as long as it doesn’t exceed the monthly rental limit amounts of the program. The program’s intent is to eliminate barriers that would restrict these families from securing housing in neighborhoods with increased access to public transportation, grocery stores, and well-performing schools. Unfortunately, the voucher discrimination seen in this complaint keeps the program from achieving that goal. In addition, screening criteria that bans residents with felony convictions and evictions further places targeted limitations on who can access the variety of D.C.’s housing opportunities.
“Housing policies that indiscriminately shut the door on potential tenants with arrest and conviction records have no place in our communities,” said Joanna K. Wasik, Deputy Legal Director at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “It is incredibly important that we fight back against such irrational barriers to housing wherever they appear.”
The ERC is represented by Brian Corman and Madhuri Belkale of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, and Joanna K. Wasik of Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
The case name is Equal Rights Center v. Air Communities, Vaughan Place, et al., Superior Court of Washington, D.C. Read more about the case at this link.
ABOUT COHEN MILSTEIN SELLERS & TOLL: Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, a premier U.S. plaintiffs’ law firm, with over 100 attorneys across eight offices, champions the causes of real people—workers, consumers, small business owners, investors, and whistleblowers—working to deliver corporate reforms and fair markets for the common good. We have litigated landmark civil rights and employment disputes before the highest courts in the nation and continue to actively shape civil rights and employment law in the United States. For more information visit https://www.cohenmilstein.com/
ABOUT EQUAL RIGHTS CENTER: The ERC is a civil rights organization that identifies and seeks to eliminate unlawful and unfair discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations in its home community of Greater Washington D.C. and nationwide. The ERC’s core strategy for identifying unlawful and unfair discrimination is civil rights testing. When the ERC identifies discrimination, it seeks to eliminate it through the use of testing data to educate the public and business community, support policy advocacy, conduct compliance testing and training, and, if necessary, take enforcement action. For more information, please visit www.equalrightscenter.org.
ABOUT WASHINGTON LAWYERS’ COMMITTEE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS AND URBAN AFFAIRS: The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs partners with community members and organizations on scores of cases to combat discrimination in housing, employment, education, immigration, criminal justice reform, public accommodations, based on race, gender, disability, family size, history of criminal conviction, and more. The Washington Lawyers’ Committee has secured a relentless stream of civil rights victories over the past five decades in an effort to achieve justice for all. For more information, please visit https://www.washlaw.org.