WASHINGTON, D.C. — Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced three new lawsuits in response to discriminatory actions against District residents taken by seven real estate companies and professionals operating in Wards 4 and 8. District law prohibits businesses or individuals from discriminating against residents based on a wide range of traits, including disability, race, color, and source of income. Following two referrals from the District’s Office of Human Rights, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) filed suits against real estate companies and agents that denied a Ward 8 resident’s reasonable accommodation request for a designated disability parking space, and against a Ward 4 landlord who refused to rent a property to a resident because of the person’s race and color. The third suit challenges an online advertisement for a property in Ward 8 that contained a discriminatory statement against residents who use housing vouchers. OAG is seeking court orders to prohibit the discriminatory actions, require damages, penalties, and fees to the District, as well as restitution to the District residents.
“The Office of the Attorney General is collaborating with the Office of Human Rights to enforce the District’s Human Rights Act—which offers some of the country’s strongest civil rights protections,” said AG Racine. “The DCHRA prohibits property owners from denying residents equal access to affordable, decent housing over traits such as race, source of income, and disability. These lawsuits once again emphasize that we will work collaboratively with our government partners to hold discriminatory landlords and property managers accountable.”
D.C.’s Civil Rights Protections
The District’s Human Rights Act (DCHRA) broadly outlaws discrimination based on traits including race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and disability. The law also specifically prohibits housing discrimination based on source of income, meaning that landlords cannot refuse to rent to prospective tenants if they use vouchers to pay rent. Roughly 10,500 low-income District households depend on the federally-funded Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly called “Section 8” vouchers, to rent housing at market rates. In the District, over 90 percent of housing voucher holders are African American, although African American residents make up only 48 percent of the District’s total population.
OAG has proposed legislation to clarify that its DCHRA 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, is permanent. The office has also submitted a proposal to the Council that would grant OAG the authority to bring civil charges against perpetrators of hate crimes.
Housing Discrimination Lawsuits
OAG’s lawsuits allege housing discrimination by six District-licensed realty companies, property managers, and professionals, and one Maryland-registered company that owns and operates an apartment building in the District. The properties involved in these lawsuits are a five-bedroom rowhouse at 3929 13th St NW in Ward 4, owned and rented out by Defendant Afolake Elizabeth O-Shokunbi; a 76-unit apartment complex at 2501 25th St SE in Ward 8, owned by KEM Associates and managed by Delwin Realty; and a three-bedroom townhouse at 615 Galveston St SE in Ward 8, owned and leased by real estate brokerage Porter House, LLC. The lawsuits allege that the defendants violated the DCHRA by:
- Discriminating based on race and color: OAG alleges that Afolake Elizabeth O-Shokunbi, a local property owner and landlord, indicated a preference for white tenants in conversations with District resident Markita Sligh, a Black prospective tenant looking to rent the defendant’s property. Ms. Sligh, who at the time had custody over her 16-year-old daughter, 10-year-old niece, 5-year-old nephew, and 3-year-old granddaughter, participates in the Housing Choice Voucher Program, and required security deposit payment assistance. OAG alleges that the defendant refused to provide an approval letter that Ms. Sligh needed to receive such assistance, halting the rental process and barring Ms. Sligh from leasing the Ward 4 property because of her race. OHR initially investigated this matter and referred it to OAG following a probable cause determination.
The complaint is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-09/O-Shokunbi-Complaint.pdf
- Discriminating based on disability: OAG alleges that KEM Associates, along with property management company Delwin Realty and Delwin employees Gary Evans and Jamaal Opie, discriminated against Artricia Morton, a tenant at Hillcrest House Apartments who suffers from mobility issues. Though Hillcrest House has three disability spaces in its parking lot, the building houses seven residents with disability parking placards. The defendants repeatedly denied Ms. Morton’s request for a designated disability parking space within 200 feet of her apartment, and instead urged her to move to “another community” or to senior housing. OAG alleges that these actions discriminatorily deny a reasonable accommodation in violation of the DCHRA. OHR initially investigated this matter and referred it to OAG following a probable cause determination.
The complaint is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-09/Delwin-Realty-Complaint.pdf
- Discriminating based on source of income: OAG alleges that Porter House International Realty Group, LLC, and District-licensed real estate salesperson Amaka “Vanessa” Akinola engaged in source-of-income discrimination by posting a discriminatory property rental advertisement online. The Craigslist posting for a Ward 8 townhouse noted “No Section 8” in the property’s description.
The complaint is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-09/Porter-House-Complaint.pdf
With all three lawsuits, OAG is seeking injunctions to stop the illegal discrimination, as well as damages, civil penalties, and costs to the District. In addition, OAG seeks restitution for the victims of discrimination in the first two actions.
Protecting Civil Rights
OAG’s Civil Rights Section, established in 2019, investigates and brings lawsuits to challenge discriminatory policies and practices that harm District residents. OAG has filed suit against Daro Management for unlawfully discriminating against low-income renters, and reached settlements with Evolve, LLC and Curtis Investment Group requiring the companies to pay up to $250,000 and $900,000 to the District, respectively. In July, OAG announced a tranche of lawsuits against 16 real estate companies and professionals engaged in illegal source of income discrimination. The office has also worked with Apartments.com and Zillow to fight housing discrimination on their platforms. Additionally, OAG has reached a settlement with a home repair company that illegally refused to do business in certain District neighborhoods. In 2019, OAG held several Civil Rights Listening Sessions across the District to hear from residents about their civil rights concerns and to help the Civil Rights Section define its priorities. Learn more about the District’s civil rights protections and how OAG is working to enforce them.
If you believe you have been a victim of discrimination, you 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, Suite 10100, Washington, D.C. 20001
OAG’s civil rights work complements the work of the 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 or call 202-727-4559.