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D.C. attorney general asks listing services to help prevent housing discrimination

Denying homes to tenants based on their receiving rental vouchers is illegal in D.C.

A rent sign in Capitol Hill (2019)
CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

In 2018, research by the Urban Institute found that roughly 15 percent of landlords in the District and nearby Montgomery County, Maryland, would reject tenants who have rental vouchers—a practice deemed illegal under laws intended to protect people from “source-of-income” discrimination. Now, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine is hoping to combat such discrimination with help from online listing platforms where landlords advertise their units.

In letters dated June 21, Racine’s office requested that Craigslist, Zillow, and CoStar Group, which owns, work to block or remove advertisements from their platforms that violate the District’s anti-discrimination statutes. The letters included examples of such advertisements, and the attorney general’s office asked to “set up a call or meeting” with each of the companies. Some of the cited posts said the owners would not take Section 8 vouchers.

“Refusing to accept Section 8 vouchers as a rental payment is a facial violation of the [D.C. Human Rights Act], as is posting an advertisement stating that a landlord does not accept vouchers,” Racine’s letters stated. They noted that ensuring fair housing was a “significant priority” for his office, which recently formed a new civil rights team to center on housing.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Seattle-based Zillow said the company has a “strict non-discrimination policy” and removes content that violates the policy. “We applaud Attorney General Racine’s efforts and look forward to working with him and his office,” they added.

A spokesperson for CoStar said in a statement that the District-based company is “actively working alongside the DC government to ensure that housing ads with problematic content are blocked or immediately removed from our websites,” including Curbed has contacted Craiglist as well and will update this post should the company offer comment.

More than 10,000 District households receive Section 8 vouchers, which may be used on the private market, per the D.C. Housing Authority. Legislation proposed earlier this year would increase the fines for advertising a person’s intent to discriminate based on source of income.

In a statement published along with the letters, Racine said: “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.” Elected in 2014, he has made housing issues, including conditions, a cornerstone of his office’s work.