DC real estate firms to pay $10M for housing discrimination

WASHINGTON (AP) — A trio of real estate companies will pay $10 million for illegally discriminating against renters using government housing vouchers in the nation’s capital, in what Washington Attorney General Karl Racine said was the largest civil penalty in U.S. history for a housing discrimination case.

“When landlords break the law and refuse to accept vouchers, it’s reminiscent of Jim Crow-era housing discrimination policies intended to restrain opportunities for Black residents,” Racine said Thursday in announcing the settlement. “We’re sending a message to all landlords: If you follow this playbook, you will face consequences.”

Some company executives also are included in the settlement.

Racine filed a lawsuit in 2020 accusing DARO Management Services, DARO Realty and Infinity Real Estate of violating local civil rights and consumer protection laws by either denying housing to low-income applicants with housing vouchers or imposing additional and illegal fees and requirements.

The three interconnected companies own and manage units in 15 buildings across Washington. As part of the settlement, the companies have agreed to stop managing residential properties in the city and will hand over management of its properties within 18 months. In addition, DARO Management President Carissa Barry will relinquish her local real estate license for 15 years.

A phone call to DARO Management seeking comment on the settlement did not receive an immediate response.

Racine said his investigation uncovered “mountains of evidence,” including multiple emails between company executives indicating a clear intent to block prospective renters using vouchers from the city’s Housing Choice Voucher Program, generally known as Section 8. About 95% of Section 8 voucher holders in D.C. are Black, Racine said.

Under terms of the district’s limited status as a non-state, Racine’s office does not have authority to prosecute felonies or several categories of serious misdemeanor crimes. Those cases are handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. However, Racine was able to file suit against DARO and its related companies as a violation of Washington’s consumer protection laws and Human Rights Act, which prohibits income-based housing discrimination.

“Vouchers are a critical tool that help our vulnerable residents,” Racine said. “Too many residents, especially people of color, face serious obstacles in finding safe and affordable housing. This displacement is not just the result of market forces. Instead it’s often caused … by a deliberate, illegal and unethical business model.”

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