Housing Rights probe pins voucher discrimination on VA landlords, brokers

Tenant advocacy group sues 29 Virginia real estate companies

National /
Oct.October 18, 2021 04:30 PM
HRI founder Aaron Carr and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (Facebook, Getty)

HRI founder Aaron Carr and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (Facebook, Getty)

The advocacy group that slapped bigwig brokerages and landlords in New York City and its suburbs with suits over source-of-income discrimination has taken its show on the road.

An investigation by New York-based Housing Rights Initiative found 29 landlords and brokers in Virginia illegally discriminated against low-income renters by refusing to accept their Section 8 vouchers.

The state’s attorney general filed 13 lawsuits against the offending parties. HRI, which is not a plaintiff in the suit, may be entitled to compensatory damages as an aggrieved party, a spokesperson for the group said, for “the frustration of its mission and the diversion of resources that occurred as a result of the defendants’ discriminatory conduct.”

HRI, a nonprofit with a national reach, has been on a tear in 2021. This is the third blockbuster suit filed this year following undercover real estate investigations. In March, HRI hit 88 landlords and residential brokerages, including Compass and Corcoran, with a suit over Section 8 discrimination. In June, 36 defendants in Westchester received the same treatment.

The Virginia suit is HRI’s biggest action outside the Empire State to date, a spokesperson for the group said, and the first of its kind in Virginia.

In 2020, Virginia updated its Fair Housing Law to add four protected classes — source of income, veteran status, gender identity and sexual orientation — under the law’s protection from housing discrimination.

Aaron Carr, HRI’s founder and executive director, credited the legislative amendment with allowing the nonprofit to “shine a light” on unlawful housing practices. HRI was tipped off to potential widespread discrimination by a fair housing ally, HRI’s spokesperson said.

“We hope our investigation, this lawsuit, Virginia’s anti-discrimination laws, and our partnership with the attorney general’s office serves as a housing enforcement model for the rest of the country,” Carr said.

New York added source-of-income discrimination to the states’ Human Rights Law in 2019 after a coalition of over 100 organizations lobbied for the change.

However, the Fair Housing Act does not include source of income as a class protected from discrimination on a federal level. The law forbids discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin.

“The findings of our investigation demonstrate why Virginia’s ban on housing voucher discrimination is desperately needed on a federal level,” said HRI deputy director Joshua Murillo.





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