AG Racine's New Civil Rights Team Takes Action to Fight Housing Discrimination

OAG Sues Landlord for Discriminating Against Voucher Holders, Calls on Tech Companies to Address Unfair Rental Listings, Seeks Community Input on Civil Rights Issues

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Office of the Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced the launch of a new Civil Rights Section and several actions this new office is taking as part of a broad effort to protect District residents from housing discrimination and other civil rights violations. OAG filed a lawsuit against Curtis Investment Group, Inc., the landlord of several apartment buildings in Wards 7 and 8, for discriminating against renters who use housing vouchers in its online rental advertisements. With its lawsuit, OAG will seek an injunction to stop Curtis from engaging in discriminatory practices. OAG also sent letters to technology companies that host rental listings, including Zillow, Craigslist, and the company that owns Apartments.com, requesting assistance in eliminating discriminatory housing advertisements. In July, OAG will host several Civil Rights Listening Sessions where District residents will be invited to share their experiences with discrimination and provide input to inform OAG’s civil rights priorities and initiatives. 

“Our new Civil Rights Section will promote equal justice under the law and stand up for District residents who face illegal discrimination and harassment based on race, gender, country of origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other protected traits,” said AG Racine. “Discrimination still makes it hard for too many people to find safe and affordable places to live, find jobs that pay living wages, get a high-quality education, or simply live happy and productive lives. That’s why my office is committed to enforcing our civil rights laws and will take action against individuals or businesses if they discriminate against our residents.”

With the support of the Council of the District of Columbia, OAG established a Civil Rights Section in 2019 in response to the federal government’s failures to enforce civil rights protections and a spike in hate crimes in the District that have targeted the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and other vulnerable populations. Similar to Attorneys General offices in California, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Washington, and other states, OAG will focus on enforcing the District’s civil rights protections and fighting large-scale discriminatory practices that stand in the way of opportunities for District residents.

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. The HRA specifically outlaws housing discrimination based on source of income. This means it is against the law for landlords to refuse to rent to prospective tenants simply because they rely on vouchers or other forms of housing assistance. However, despite this protection, a recent study showed that 15 percent of District landlords still refused to accept vouchers.  

OAG’s Civil Rights Section is focused on fighting housing discrimination because it harms low-income tenants who already struggle to find safe, affordable housing. Rents are rising faster in the District than in other parts of the U.S., and over 22 percent of District households spend more than half of their income on rent. More than 10,500 households also 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 market-rate housing on the private market and is intended to give these families more choices than traditional public housing.

Housing Discrimination Lawsuit
In response to a complaint from a District resident, OAG filed a lawsuit against Curtis Investment Group, Inc., a real estate and property management companies based in Maryland. Curtis owns and manages a large number of residential properties in the District, including Camelot Square, 3200 E St, SE; Cornerstone, 1800 Minnesota Ave, SE; Wheeler Park, 3211 – 3221 Wheeler Road, SE; and Oxon Run Manor, 207 Mississippi Ave, SE. Curtis advertises available apartments online at http://curtisinvestments.com and on third-party listing services, including Apartments.com. The District alleges that Curtis violated the HRA by:

  • Posting discriminatory online ads for apartments: Curtis advertised apartments for rent on its own website and on other online platforms, including Apartments.com. In advertisements, the company explicitly states “**NOT ACCEPTING VOUCHERS AT THIS TIME**” and “[a]t this time, we are not accepting any vouchers or rapid rehousing.”
     
  • Refusing to accept certain forms of housing assistance as rent payment: Curtis advertised that it does not accept payments from the District’s rapid re-housing program at its properties, and a Curtis representative verbally confirmed to OAG that this is the company’s policy.

In its suit, OAG is seeking an injunction against Curtis to stop them from engaging in discriminatory practices and civil penalties for violating District law.

A copy of OAG’s complaint is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-06/DC-v-Curtis-Investment-Complaint.pdf

Outreach to Business
As part of its broader effort to fight housing discrimination in the District, OAG sent letters to major technology companies that host apartment rental listings, including Zillow, Craigslist, and CoStar Group, which owns Apartments.com, requesting their help to fight housing discrimination and ensure real estate listings on their platforms comply with District law. OAG plans to work closely with these companies to ensure that discriminatory ads are not posted or are quickly removed.  

A copy of the letter to Craigslist is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-06/Craigslist-Voucher-Letter.pdf  

A copy of the letter to CoStar Group, the company that owns Apartments.com, is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-06/CoStar-Voucher-Letter.pdf

A copy of the letter to Zillow is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-06/Zillow-Voucher-Letter.pdf

Engagement with District Residents
In July, OAG will be hosting five Civil Rights Listening Sessions across the city. At these sessions, community members are invited to share their personal experiences with discrimination and talk about their top civil rights concerns. OAG’s civil rights attorneys will be listening to community members to better understand issues they face and learn from them how OAG can use the law to remove barriers to equal opportunity for all District residents. 

View the schedule and sign up to attend a Civil Rights Listening Session at: rebrand.ly/OAGCivilRights 

Civil Rights Resources
OAG 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. Learn more about illegal discrimination and how OAG is working to defend your civil rights at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-06/Civil-Rights-Brochure-Final.pdf

If you believe you have been a victim of discrimination, you may submit a complaint with OAG by:

  • Calling OAG at (202) 727-3400
  • E-mailing a complaint to OAGCivilRights@dc.gov
  • Mailing a complaint to OAG at 441 4th Street N.W., Suite 600S, Washington, D.C. 20001

OAG is working to bolster the District’s effectiveness in enforcing the HRA on a larger scale. OAG’s goal is to ensure equal treatment and meaningful opportunity for all District residents by complementing the work of the Office of Human Rights (OHR), the primary District agency that investigates individual complaints of discrimination. You can file a complaint with OHR at https://ohr.dc.gov/ or call 202-727-4559.