WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced a lawsuit against Evolve, LLC and Evolve Property Management, LLC, local real estate companies, for violating consumer protection law through illegal housing discrimination. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) alleges in its complaint that consumers were harmed when the companies refused to show or rent available properties to prospective tenants who receive housing assistance from the federal government. In its lawsuit, OAG is seeking an injunction against the companies to stop their illegal and discriminatory business practices, as well as restitution and penalties for violating District law.
“Many District of Columbia residents receive subsidies, including housing vouchers, to assist them in meeting the high cost of living in our city,” said AG Racine. “It is illegal to deny housing opportunities to District residents who use subsidies or vouchers to pay for their rent. Today’s lawsuit is a warning to entities that denying housing on the basis of source of income is discriminatory, illegal, and will not be tolerated.”
Evolve, LLC and Evolve Property Management, LLC (Evolve) are real estate and property management companies that own and manage residential properties in the District. The companies are headquartered in the H Street Corridor and offer multiple apartments for rent in the District, including several units on Capitol Hill. Evolve advertises apartments online at www.evolvedc.com and on Craigslist, and requires prospective tenants interested in scheduling a showing online to disclose whether they plan to pay the rent with housing vouchers.
The District is experiencing an affordable housing crisis, with rents rising faster than in other parts of the United States and average monthly rent reaching more than $2,000. However, nearly 17 percent of District residents live below the poverty line, and over 22 percent of the city’s households spend more than half of their income on rent. More than 10,500 low-income District households depend on the federally-funded Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly called “Section 8” vouchers, to afford homes. The voucher program allows low-income families to rent housing on the private market at market rates and is intended to give these families more choices than traditional public housing.
The District’s Human Rights Act (DCHRA), which broadly outlaws discrimination based on traits including race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and disability, specifically outlaws housing discrimination based on source of income. Landlords cannot refuse to rent to prospective tenants simply because they rely on vouchers. However, despite this protection, a recent study showed that 15 percent of District landlords still refused to accept vouchers.
The District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA) prohibits a wide variety of deceptive and unlawful businesses practices and protects consumers, including tenants. Under the CPPA, it is considered an unlawful trade practice to violate other laws. The District alleges that by illegally refusing to show or rent property to prospective tenants who intended to use housing vouchers, Evolve violated the CPPA. According to OAG’s complaint, Evolve:
- Discriminated against voucher-holders in its advertising and communications: Evolve advertised apartments for rent on its own website and on other online platforms, including Craigslist. In its advertisements, the company explicitly stated it did not accept housing vouchers. Additionally, company representatives verbally communicated that Evolve did not accept housing vouchers at its rental properties.
- Prevented voucher recipients from viewing and leasing rental properties: Evolve used an online form to allow prospective tenants to schedule showings of available apartments. Any prospective tenant who indicated they planned to use Section 8 vouchers to pay their rent were automatically denied the opportunity to view the properties.
A copy of OAG’s complaint is available at: http://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2018-11/Evolve-LLC-Complaint.pdf
OAG learned about Evolve’s discriminatory conduct by a complaint filed by the National Fair Housing Alliance with the District’s Office of Human Rights. OAG conducted its own investigation into the company’s practices and filed today’s lawsuit to stop the illegal conduct.
How to Report Housing Discrimination
Residents who believe that they have experienced housing discrimination, or any other type of discrimination, should file a complaint with the DC Office of Human Rights at: https://ohr.dc.gov/service/file-discrimination-complaint.
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 our Consumer Protection Hotline at 202-442-9828 or submitting a complaint online on our Consumer Protection Page.