WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced that Polygon Holdings will pay $300,000 to settle allegations that they deployed discriminatory practices known as “blockbusting” – methods rarely used in the last half-century due to their obviously prejudicial nature – to force a District resident to sell her home so they could flip it for profit.
Blockbusting refers to the practice of real estate speculators encouraging and manipulating real or perceived prejudice in prospective buyers in order to reduce the market value of a desired property. In the District, blockbusting has a long history of being used to stoke fears against Black residents who sought to live in integrated neighborhoods following the outlawing of previously-legal housing segregation.
“The tactics deployed by the defendant harken back to the type of overt discrimination that occurred more than 50 years ago. It’s outrageous and illegal and has no place in the District of Columbia or our country,” said AG Racine. “Anyone who attempts to stoke prejudicial fears or encourage animosity in violation of the law toward a group of people must be called out and held accountable, as we are doing today.”
Allegations against Polygon
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) alleged that after purchasing one-half of a duplex in July, 2020, Polygon intended to purchase the other half of the duplex on the adjoining property to convert the entire property into condominiums. After the owner of the second property refused to sell, Polygon placed a sign on the first property which stated: “SECTION 8 & STUDENT ACCOMODATION [sic] COMING SOON.” This sign was in place until at least November 3, 2020.
The sign was put in place to affect the sale or purchase of the neighboring property by playing into prejudices that prospective buyers may have against housing voucher holders and students, thus reducing the perceived value of that property so the homeowner would be forced to sell to Polygon.
These actions constitute “blockbusting,” which is illegal under the D.C. Human Rights Act (DCHRA). OAG also alleged that the sign misled consumers as Polygon did not intend to use the property for this purpose, and therefore violated the District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA), which prohibits false or misleading advertisements in consumer transactions and prohibits misrepresentations to material facts which have a tendency to mislead.
As a result of OAG’s actions, Polygon must:
- Pay $300,000 in costs and penalties to the District.
- Provide training to their employees who are tasked with managing or overseeing residential housing in the District of Columbia through a third-party training company regarding housing discrimination and the District’s fair housing laws.
- Identify all properties in the District that they have a financial or ownership interest in to ensure these practices are not being deployed elsewhere.
A copy of the agreement is available here.
This matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Griffin Simpson and Andrew Mendrala, with the assistance of Investigator Ashley Norman, under the supervision of Chief Alicia M. Lendon of the Civil Rights Section of the Public Advocacy Division of OAG.
Resources for Tenants
OAG offers resources to help renters and tips on how to report problems with your landlord or your housing conditions. Residents can access specific guidance around tenant rights now that the public health emergency has ended. If you have a complaint related to the safety and security of your rental housing, you can report that to OAG’s Social Justice Section at SocialJustice@dc.gov.
If you believe you have been a victim of discrimination, you can report it to OAG’s Civil Rights Section by calling (202) 727-3400 or e-mailing OAGCivilRights@dc.gov.
D.C. Human Rights Act
The District’s Human Rights Act (HRA) is one of the strongest civil rights laws in the country. It broadly outlaws discrimination based on traits including race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and disability. In response to evidence of ongoing bias and discrimination in the District, OAG launched its Civil Rights Section in April 2019. The section, composed of four attorneys and one investigator, protects the civil rights of District residents by bringing lawsuits to challenge discrimination, advocating for legislation to strengthen antidiscrimination laws, and engaging in educational community outreach so that residents know their rights. The team focuses on combatting large-scale discriminatory practices in order to serve as a significant deterrent to illegal discriminatory conduct.
To increase enforcement of District anti-discrimination laws, AG Racine championed “The Hate Crime and Civil Enforcement Clarification Amendment Act of 2019,” which empowers OAG to hold perpetrators accountable for their bias-motivated crimes. These provisions were ultimately enacted as part of the Bella Evangelista and Tony Hunter Panic Defense Prohibition and Hate Crimes Response Amendment Act of 2020. You can read more about these efforts here.
If you believe you have been a victim of discrimination, you may report it to OAG by:
- Calling OAG at (202) 727-3400
- Emailing the Civil Rights Section at OAGCivilRights@dc.gov
- Filling out an online form