AG holds real estate companies accountable for housing discrimination
Under a Virginia law that became effective in 2020, it is illegal for landlords to discriminate against people who use assistance – including Housing Choice Vouchers, disability income, veteran benefits, rent relief, and more – to secure housing.
In October, Attorney General Mark Herring filed 13 lawsuits, the first filed under the new law, against 29 real estate companies based on testing evidence from Housing Rights Initiative, a national nonprofit housing watchdog group dedicated to promoting fair and lawful housing practices.
In recorded phone calls, staff for the real estate companies told the testers that they do not accept Housing Choice Vouchers.
On Friday, Herring announced that his office has obtained more than $100,000 in monetary relief, as well as opened up thousands of housing opportunities for more Virginians.
“No Virginian should ever have to worry about being discriminated against while they’re trying to find safe housing for themselves and their families. Refusing to rent to someone who is using a Housing Choice Voucher is not only illegal but it’s blatant housing discrimination and it will not be tolerated in the Commonwealth,” Herring said.
“I commend these housing providers for coming to the table, acknowledging issues that prevented voucher holders from accessing their properties, and recommitting to fair housing principles of equality and choice for all. I want to thank my Office of Civil Rights for all of their hard work on these cases, because of them voucher holders now have thousands more housing opportunities that will be open to them.”
In addition to monetary relief exceeding $100,000, these settlements provide significant public interest relief, including widespread affirmative marketing to Housing Choice Voucher holders. Some of the terms in the agreements include:
- Affirmative marketing campaigns to highlight properties to home-seekers searching for housing with terms like “vouchers accepted” and “voucher apartments”
- Listing property availability on websites used by Housing Choice Voucher holders to search for housing, including virginiahousingsearch.comand www.affordablehousing.com
- Implementation of strong non-discrimination policies that include “source of funds,” including confirmation that employees have received and agreed to abide the policy
- Ongoing fair housing training for employees, including portions dedicated to preventing source-of-funds discrimination
- Posting of fair housing compliance on property websites and in property management offices
- Assuring that any third-party contractors that have contact with homeseekers know not to discriminate based on source of funds
- Regular reporting to OCR of voucher applicants, outcomes of those applications, and the reasons therefore
Landlords like Bell Partners and Campus Apartments, recognizing both the importance of diverse communities and the value of ensuring that low-income homeseekers and others who use alternative sources of funds are able to live in their communities, agreed to even more extensive public interest relief by creating significant changes to their policies, thereby ensuring that housing was available on a nondiscriminatory basis to countless tenants in Virginia and across the country.
“The outcomes of these historic lawsuits speak to the power and promise of non-profits and government agencies working together to uproot the illegal practices of housing discrimination. These settlements pave the path for our continued work in the Commonwealth of Virginia and across the country. This is just the beginning,” said Aaron Carr, founder and executive director of Housing Rights Initiative.
“The Virginia Fair Housing Office applauds the Office of the Attorney General and housing providers for reaching agreement in these cases with substantial public interest relief. These settlements will contribute to a greater understanding of the source of funds protection, and why compliance is good for housing providers as well as residents and neighborhoods across the Commonwealth.” said Lizbeth Hayes, Virginia Fair Housing Office Director at the Department of Professional & Occupational Regulation.