DC Attorney General sues two companies for voucher discrimination

The District sued two real estate companies and their operators last month, saying they discriminate against people with subsidized housing vouchers who are struggling to find homes amid the city’s affordable housing crisis.

The lawsuit is the first filed to enforce new tenant protections passed into law last year that prevents landlords from discriminating against voucher holders for missing rental payments before being awarded a voucher, according to the office of DC Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb (D). And it is the first such suit filed by Schwalb, who was sworn into office at the beginning of this year.

DC law prevents landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants because of their source of income. Those who hold housing vouchers, whether permanent or temporary, may not be rejected for that reason alone.

Filed in DC Superior Court on March 7, the suit said a DC voucher holder used Zillow to request a tour of a property in the 1500 block of Gales Street NE, not far from the H Street corridor. The property’s owner, defendant Jerome Bailey, arranged for the applicant to take a tour with Brandon Davis Dukes, another defendant in the case, according to the suit.

When the applicant informed Davis Dukes about his voucher, the suit said, Davis Dukes “made an unpleasant facial expression in response to this information but asserted that vouchers would be accepted,” according to the suit.

Though Davis Dukes said he would send the applicant an application for the property, he did not, according to the suit. Instead, Davis Dukes said he’d received a “really strong” application for Gales Street — and referred the applicant to another unit in Southeast “which looked to be in worse condition than the unit she had toured,” according to the suit. (Bailey said in a text, “I do not own any inferior units.”)

Meanwhile, according to the suit, a non-profit DC housing conducted a “matched-pair test” of the Gales Street property where people posing as applicants with and without vouchers were told different information.

Bailey told one person who said they had a voucher that she should apply to a different property because “the approval requirements are not as strict,” according to the suit.

When the faux voucher holder called back later, Bailey told her the unit was rented, according to the suit — but a person posing as a prospective tenant without a voucher was told that it was available.

DC overpays landlords millions to house the city’s poorest

“Bailey’s message to the Unsubsidized Tester confirming the availability of not one but two units at the Property came about one hour after Davis Dukes told the Subsidized Tester that unit #5 had been rented,” according to the suit.

Part of the suit seeks an injunction to block the alleged discrimination as well as other relief.

Jerome Bailey said in an interview that the lawsuit was “misdirected” and denied the allegations. Bailey said 85 percent of his 800 housing units in the District are occupied by voucher holders and he is a board member of the nonprofit mental health organization Community Connections.

“I think it’s a little bit unfortunate that we are caught up in an environment where this is a political issue for a lot of people,” he said. “This has been my life’s work for over 20 years.”

Bailey added: “I think the Office of the Attorney General could have had a conversation with us prior to filing a lawsuit … that’s not the route which they chose.”

Davis Dukes did not immediately return a request for comment left at a number listed in public records.

In recent years, the District has put more emphasis on litigation against landlords who discriminate against voucher holders.

In October, then-attorney general Karl A. Racine (D) said three real estate firms would pay the District $10 million and stop managing property in the city because they allegedly imposed illegal requirements on low-income applicants.

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,” Schwalb said in a statement. “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.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top