WASHINGTON, DC – Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb today announced the filing of a housing discrimination lawsuit seeking to enforce new protections for DC tenants that went into effect in 2022. In a lawsuit filed against two local real estate companies—Bailey Real Estate Holdings, LLC and 1537 Gales Street NE, LLC—and two individuals who operate those companies, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) asserts that the defendants illegally discriminated against voucher holders based on their prior payment history and sealed eviction records, and illegally stated a preference for certain types of vouchers over others. The lawsuit also claims that the defendants illegally refused to accept housing vouchers at some properties, falsely telling prospective tenants with vouchers that apartments were unavailable. With this suit, OAG is seeking a court order to stop the discrimination, as well as civil penalties and other costs.
“The housing market in Washington, DC makes it far too hard for too many of our residents to find safe and affordable places to live, even in the absence of illegal discrimination,” said Attorney General Schwalb. “My office will aggressively enforce our laws – including the law enacted last year – to ensure that no one in DC is discriminated against in their search for housing. It is illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants for using housing vouchers. It is also illegal to discriminate against a voucher holder based on rental payment history prior to receiving the voucher. We will continue working to stop housing discrimination wherever we find it, and advocating for policies that enable more families to find safe and stable homes.”
Housing Assistance & Anti-Discrimination Protections
Housing assistance programs are a key part of ensuring affordable housing is available for those who want to live in DC, and thousands of DC residents rely on federal and local housing subsidies to pay their rent. DC’s anti-discrimination law, the Human Rights Act (HRA), for decades has prohibited housing discrimination based on source of income, making it illegal for landlords to refuse prospective tenants or treat tenants differently simply because they rely on vouchers or other forms of housing assistance. Last year, the DC Council passed the Eviction Record Sealing Authority and Fairness in Renting Amendment Act of 2022 which expands access to housing for voucher holders by:
- Strengthening anti-discrimination protections: This legislation makes it illegal for landlords to discriminate based on financial challenges voucher holders experienced before they obtained an income-based housing subsidy. The vouchers DC residents receive guarantee they have the ability to pay rent. Under this new law, housing providers can no longer shut out voucher holders based on financial struggles, including income level, credit score, and history of late or non-payment of rent, occurring before they started receiving housing assistance.
- Banning discrimination based on sealed eviction records: Eviction filings, even when dismissed—as more than half of filings in DC are—formerly left permanent marks on tenants’ records, and could lead to denial of rental applications years later, even after an applicant’s ability to pay rent changed. As of 2020, in eviction cases where a court does not find in a landlord’s favor, records are sealed immediately. Even when a tenant has a judgment entered against them, records are sealed after three years, and tenants can ask the court to seal those records sooner. Under the new law, it is now illegal to discriminate against someone based on eviction records that have already been sealed by the court. It is also illegal for a landlord to ask whether a prospective tenant has a sealed eviction record.
Housing Discrimination Lawsuit
OAG’s lawsuit seeks to enforce legal protections for voucher holders and marks the first enforcement action of new protections that were adopted by the District in 2022. In this suit, OAG alleges that two unlicensed real estate professionals, Jerome Bailey and Brandon Davis Dukes, property management company Bailey Real Estate Holdings, LLC, and the company that holds title to the residential building at 1537 Gales Street NE violated DC law by:
- Refusing to accept housing vouchers: Defendants are alleged to have refused to rent to voucher holders seeking to live at 1537 Gales Street NE and refused to accept certain types of vouchers at other properties that they own or manage. In posted advertisements and through multiple agents, defendants are alleged to have stated that they accept “permanent” vouchers at some properties, but do not accept short-term subsidies at any property. Under District law, landlords must accept all forms of housing subsidies and may not post advertisements indicating a preference based on a tenant’s source of income.
- Misleading voucher holders about the availability of apartments: Defendants are alleged to have advertised apartments for rent, but when they learned that prospective tenants intended to use housing vouchers, they falsely said units were no longer available. In one instance, the Equal Rights Center, a DC-based housing justice nonprofit, conducted a test with one person posing as a voucher holder and another posing as someone without a housing voucher. When testers asked to view an apartment, the one without a voucher was told two apartments were available, was sent an application, and was offered a tour. At the same time and for the same apartment, the tester with a voucher was told the apartment had already been rented.
- Discriminating based on sealed eviction records and voucher holders’ payment history: Defendants are also alleged to have posted more than 20 ads requiring “No evictions or payment related court cases.” This illegally discriminates against applicants whose eviction records were sealed by the court, and it discriminates against voucher holders who experienced financial difficulties before they received a subsidy. This is OAG’s first lawsuit that includes allegations related to these newly established legal prohibitions designed to protect tenants.
The District’s complaint is available here.
This case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Samantha Hall and Jessica Feinberg under the supervision of Alicia M. Lendon, Chief of the Civil Rights & Elder Justice Section.
Report Housing Discrimination
District residents who believe that they have experienced housing discrimination, or any other form of discrimination, may report it to OAG’s Civil Rights & Elder Justice 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.