WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl Racine today announced a settlement requiring three real estate firms—DARO Management Services, DARO Realty, and Infinity Real Estate—and several individual defendants to pay a landmark $10 million in penalties for illegally discriminating against renters in the District who use Section 8 housing vouchers and other forms of housing assistance. This is the largest civil penalty in a housing discrimination case in U.S. history.
In 2020, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) sued DARO, related entities, and several of their executives for violating D.C. civil rights and consumer protection laws by treating people who receive housing subsidies inequitably and making it difficult or impossible for them to rent apartments in its 15 buildings—located in Wards 1, 2, and 3. To resolve the lawsuit, DARO will pay the largest discrimination penalty in U.S. history, dissolve its property management business, and all defendants will be permanently banned from owning a residential real estate management company in D.C. DARO Management President and Principal Broker Carissa Barry will also be required to forfeit her real estate licenses for 15 years. This resolution is a continuation of AG Racine’s longstanding efforts to protect tenants and increase access to safe and affordable housing in the District.
“This landmark resolution is a major victory for D.C. residents. This case should send a strong message that if you break the law and discriminate against renters who use housing subsidies, you will face serious consequences,” said AG Racine. “The District has experienced among the highest levels of gentrification and displacement of longtime Black and brown residents of any city in the country in recent years. Housing vouchers are critically important to help our most vulnerable residents—including seniors, people with disabilities, and single mothers—keep roofs over their heads in our soaring rental market. When landlords break the law and refuse to accept vouchers, it’s reminiscent of Jim Crow-era housing discrimination policies intended to restrain opportunities for Black residents.”
“The Council has repeatedly said that voucher holders must be able to rent without discrimination, extra fees, or other roadblocks,” Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large). “The Attorney General’s settlement makes clear: discrimination isn’t welcome in D.C. I commend the Office of the Attorney General for putting teeth behind voucher discrimination laws and pursuing justice on behalf of tenants.”
“This is a fantastic win for the District and for our residents,” said Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6). “As chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, I’ve made it a priority to provide funding for attorneys who will use the law to protect the most vulnerable District residents, and today’s action is a great example of how Attorney General Racine has made that vision real. For years, the Council has consistently increased local funding for housing vouchers, including two years ago when I led an effort to fund more than 2,000 new housing vouchers, to help ensure families and residents at all income levels can continue to call the District home. But we have also always known that one of the greatest obstacles to progress has been many landlords’ refusal to rent to voucher holders. Holding bad actors accountable like this sends an undeniable message that this will not be tolerated. The historic settlement that Attorney General Racine is announcing today shows those landlords can’t get away with breaking the law anymore. I want to thank the Attorney General and his staff for their work.”
“This landmark settlement bolsters civil rights in the District and holds landlords accountable for harmful bias against renters who use housing assistance, including Section 8 housing vouchers,” said Councilmember Robert White, Jr. (D-At-Large). “I am proud that my Committee on Government Operations & Facilities has proactively supported the Office of the Attorney General’s enforcement of DC’s anti-discrimination laws by strengthening our Human Rights Act and new civil rights legislation. I thank Attorney General Racine for fighting so diligently to protect District residents from discrimination, and to ensure people are made whole when they’ve faced injustice.”
“The Office of the Tenant Advocate is proud to have partnered with the Office of the Attorney General to bring about this monumental settlement on behalf of District Residents,” said Johanna Shreve, the Chief Tenant Advocate of the District of Columbia. “Since its inception 16 years ago, the OTA has worked tirelessly to hold Housing Providers accountable and to ensure that District Tenants’ rights are protected. We are grateful for all that AG Racine and OAG have done for our tenant community, and look forward to continuing our strong partnership in the future.”
“Too often greedy landlords are looking for ways to drive up rents, while at the same time discriminating against residents and their families who struggle to get by, illegally preventing them from accessing housing in high-opportunity neighborhoods,” said Will Merrifield, Executive Director for The Center for Social Housing and Public Investment. “This settlement draws a line in the sand and sends a clear message that discrimination will have consequences. I commend the Office of the Attorney General and Mr. Racine for their important work on this issue.”
Housing assistance programs are a key part of the District’s response to its ongoing affordable housing crisis. Roughly 11,500 low-income District households depend on the federally funded Housing Choice Voucher Program, often called “Section 8” vouchers, to rent housing in the private market. 60% of D.C. households that use federal rental assistance are seniors, families with children, or people with disabilities. 95% of D.C. voucher-holders are Black, and 79% of households using vouchers are headed by women. In addition, a local voucher program, the Local Rent Supplement Program, provides tenant-based subsidies to nearly 5,000 households. Another form of housing assistance, rapid-rehousing vouchers, provides immediate help to residents transitioning from homelessness to permanent housing. In the last year, more than 3,400 families used rapid-rehousing subsidies. In total, more than 50,000 District residents rely on some form of subsidy for housing stability.
The District’s Human Rights Act (HRA)—which is one of the strongest civil rights laws in the country—specifically outlaws housing discrimination based on source of income. This means that it is illegal for landlords to refuse prospective tenants or treat tenants differently simply because they rely on vouchers or other forms of housing assistance. Nineteen states and the District expressly ban source-of-income discrimination, which helps expand housing choice options for subsidy holders, including in resource-rich neighborhoods like those where DARO’s buildings are located. Despite these protections, a recent study showed that 15% of District-area landlords still refuse to accept housing subsidies. District residents expressed significant concerns to OAG about housing discrimination at Civil Rights Listening Sessions held in 2019.
OAG Lawsuit & Settlement
In 2020, OAG filed a housing discrimination lawsuit against three related real estate companies: DARO Management Services, LLC, a real estate management company that operates, maintains, and leases about 1,200 apartments across 15 buildings in Northwest D.C.; DARO Realty, LLC, which owns the majority of these apartment buildings; and Infinity Real Estate, LLC, the company overseeing investment and practices of both DARO entities. Infinity, based in New York State, manages thousands of residential units located in urban areas including the District. The District also named as a defendant DARO Management President Carissa Barry, a D.C.-licensed real estate broker who oversees the DARO entities and was touted as Managing Director for Infinity Real Estate on its website. The complaint was amended in 2022 to include other executives of the DARO and Infinity entities who had the authority to control or directly participated in the illegal conduct: Steven Kassin, DARO owner and Infinity’s managing member, DARO owner Etienne Locoh, and Jared Engel and David Berg, who both oversaw Infinity’s investments and were DARO investors.
In its lawsuit, OAG initially alleged that DARO illegally charged Section 8 voucher recipients extra fees and posted discriminatory housing advertisements. These allegations, and more, were confirmed through numerous documents obtained in the course of the litigation, in which Defendants admitted their illegal scheme in writing. For example, in an email to defendant Carissa Barry, defendant Jared Engel instructed her: “No voucher/sec-8 – find ways to reject, applicant must meet every requirement (credit, security deposit, income, etc), in the case that we have to lease to them which we should find every way out of, don’t put in renovated units. No transfers.”
OAG also uncovered evidence that DARO implemented strict new standards for rental applications to prevent subsidy holders from qualifying. In an email to defendant Steven Kassin, defendant Carissa Barry wrote “off the record I am doing everything I can to reduce if not eliminate the section 8 program from our communities. We have tightened our screening criteria as much as humanly possible…” OAG also discovered that DARO refused to accept subsidies from certain programs entirely, including renters in D.C.’s Rapid Re-Housing Program and those receiving housing assistance through the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness and Pathways to Housing.
Under the terms of a settlement agreement, the three real estate companies and its principals will be required to:
- Pay $10,000,000 in civil penalties for illegal housing discrimination: OAG alleged that for years, DARO discriminated against renters who use housing vouchers and subsidies in violation of the HRA and the Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA). Companies and individuals who violate these laws can face substantial penalties. The HRA authorizes the District to obtain up to $10,000 in civil penalties for each violation of the law, and the CPPA authorizes penalties of up to $5,000 per violation.
- Permanently stop managing residential property in D.C.: This settlement requires DARO to dissolve the property management arm of its business (Daro Management Services, LLC) and to transition management of all of the properties it owns to a third-party company within 18 months. It also permanently bars all defendants—including the companies and named executives—from owning any interest in a property management company in the District.
- Forfeit a professional license: Carissa Barry will be required to surrender her District of Columbia real estate licenses and not seek reinstatement or seek to apply for a new license for 15 years.
The settlement agreement is available here.
The District’s amended complaint, which was filed on May 16, 2022, is available here.
The case was managed by Assistant Attorneys General Nadeen J. Saqer and Tony Towns, under the supervision of Civil Rights Section Chief Alicia M. Lendon and Office of Consumer Protection Director Adam R. Teitelbaum. Assistant Attorneys General Samantha Miyahara Hall and Griffin J. Simpson, Paralegal Gustavo Diaz, Investigator Ashley Norman, and Marta Paravano, Director of Practice Administration and Practice Technologies, also assisted with the investigation and litigation.
Report Housing Discrimination
OAG’s Civil Rights Section, established in 2019, investigates and brings lawsuits to challenge discriminatory policies and practices that harm District residents. Last month, the Council held a hearing on proposed legislation to clarify and permanently codify OAG’s D.C. HRA enforcement authority, including the ability to investigate discriminatory practices, issue pre-suit subpoenas, recover significant penalties from wrongdoers, and seek restitution for victims of discrimination. Passing this legislation will pave the way for even more civil rights victories in the District. OAG also has the authority to bring civil suits against those who commit acts of bias-motivated violence, thanks to legislation enacted by the Council in 2020.
District residents who believe that they have experienced housing discrimination, or any other type of discrimination, may report it to OAG’s Civil Rights Section by:
- Submitting a civil rights tip online
- Calling (202) 727-3400
- E-mailing OAGCivilRights@dc.gov
- Mailing OAG, ATTN: Civil Rights Section at 400 6th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20001
OAG’s civil rights work complements the work of the District’s Office of Human Rights (OHR), which is the primary District agency that investigates individual discrimination complaints. You can file a complaint with OHR at ohr.dc.gov/service/file-discrimination-complaint or call 202-727-4559.
Consumers, including renters, who have been the victims of unfair or deceptive trade practices can file a consumer complaint with OAG’s Office of Consumer Protection by calling (202) 442-9828, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or submitting a complaint online.