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For Immediate Release:
Ashley White, Equal Rights Center, 202.370.3204
awhite@equalrightscenter.org

 

Equal Rights Center Fights Discriminatory Housing Advertising in the District of Columbia

Civil rights investigation uncovers advertising that discriminates against voucher holders and people with disabilities



WASHINGTON, D.C., August 27, 2012 Today the Equal Rights Center (ERC)—a national non-profit civil rights organization—filed a lawsuit in the D.C. Superior Court against Theophilus LLC (Theophilus), a D.C. landlord, alleging that it has violated the D.C. Human Rights Act and the federal Fair Housing Act by discriminating against Housing Choice Voucher Holders and people with disabilities in its rental advertising.

“Everyone has the right to choose where they live, including those who use Housing Choice Vouchers, and those unable to work because of a disability,” said Don Kahl, Executive Director of the ERC. “Discriminatory advertising effectively bars individuals and families from housing that they are entitled to pursue. Excluding individuals simply because they want to use a voucher to pay their rent, or because their disability precludes them from employment, is not only against the law, it is bad business.”

According to the ERC’s Complaint, Theophilus advertised a rental property located at 3118 E Street, SE, Washington, D.C. on the web-based listing service Craigslist.com, and stated: “Sorry not accepting vouchers” and “Professional working need only apply.” By refusing to rent to individuals who intend to use Housing Choice Vouchers, as well as to individuals who do not have income as “working” or “Professionals,” Theophilus is, the ERC’s complaint alleges, unlawfully discriminating against renters in the District of Columbia based on their source of income. Further, by refusing to rent to individuals who cannot work, the complaint alleges that Theophilus is unlawfully discriminating against persons who are unable to work because of their disabilities.

“Discriminatory advertising is just as illegal as other types of fair housing violations,” said Megan K. Whyte, Director of the Fair Housing Project for the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “Advertising that applications from voucher holders and people who do not work will not be considered excludes people based on factors that are legally protected, and discourages individuals from applying.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in July 2012 nearly eighty percent of people with disabilities in the United States who were over sixteen years of age were not part of the labor force, compared to only thirty percent of people over the age of sixteen who did not have a disability.

In 2011, the D.C. Housing Authority reported that 10,596 families in the District were being served by the Housing Choice Voucher Program, with nearly 35,000 more families on the waitlist. The ERC published a report that same year documenting a 45% rate of discrimination against voucher holders in the District. Voucher holders unable to secure housing because of discrimination can lose their vouchers—relegating them to unsafe or overcrowded housing, a shelter, or the streets.

Since 2004, the ERC has monitored housing providers in the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area to measure compliance with source of income laws, and has reached agreements with more than 25 housing providers in the District, opening up more than 17,000 apartment units to voucher holders.

The ERC is represented in this matter by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs, and Steptoe & Johnson LLP.

Click here to read the ERC’s 2011 report Still in Search of Decent Housing: A Five Year Reflection on Discrimination Against Housing Choice Voucher Holders in the District of Columbia.

 

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About the Equal Rights Center (www.equalrightscenter.org)
Originally formed in 1983, the Equal Rights Center (ERC) is a national non-profit civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C.  With members located in every state and the District of Columbia, the ERC works nationally to promote equal opportunity in housing, employment, disability rights, immigrant rights, and access to public accommodations and government services for all protected classes under federal, state, and local laws.

About the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (www.washlaw.org/)
The Washington Lawyers&rsquo Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs was established in 1968 to provide pro bono legal services to address issues of discrimination and entrenched poverty. Since its founding, the Committee has handled more than 5,000 cases on behalf of individuals and advocacy organizations in the areas of equal employment, fair housing, public accommodations, public education, asylum and refugee rights, and disability rights.

About Steptoe and Johnson LLP (www.steptoe.com/)
Over the past six decades Steptoe has established a reputation for vigorous representation of clients before governmental agencies, successful advocacy in litigation and arbitration, and creative and practical advice in guiding business transactions. The firm has more than 500 lawyers and other professionals in offices in Beijing, Brussels, Century City, Chicago, London, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, and Washington.

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