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Equal Rights Ctr. v. Props. Int'l

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

February 26, 2015

EQUAL RIGHTS CENTER, APPELLANT,
v.
PROPERTIES INTERNATIONAL, and ERNEST BANKS, APPELLEES

Argued May 8, 2014

Page 600

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (CAB-1356-13). (Hon. Michael L. Rankin, Trial Judge).

Peter D. Isakoff, with whom Gary A. Coad and Adam B. Banks were on the brief, for appellant.

Megan K. Whyte de Vasquez and Robert M. Bruskin, Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, were also on the brief for appellant.

Deborah Murrell Whelihan for appellees.

Before FISHER and MCLEESE, Associate Judges, and PRYOR, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Page 601

Per Curiam

Appellant Equal Rights Center (ERC), a non-profit advocacy organization, filed a complaint against appellees Ernest Banks and Properties International, alleging a violation of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (DCHRA), D.C. Code § § 2-1401.01 to 2-1404.04 (2012 Repl.). The trial court dismissed the complaint, concluding that appellant lacked standing to bring the claim. We reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Factual Background

Appellant ERC describes itself as " a national non-profit civil rights organization . . . [which] works nationally to promote equal opportunity in housing, employment, and access to public accommodations and government services for all protected classes under federal, state, and local laws." It provides " guidance, information, and assistance" to protect individuals seeking housing in the Washington, D.C., area, and offers training for the real estate industry on fair housing law.

Appellant also investigates alleged housing discrimination, in part by tracking real estate listings, which led it to a listing appellees placed on the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems (MRIS) website. The listing advertised an apartment for $934.00 in monthly rent and contained the following language: " Section 8 and other vouchers or certificates [will require] additional cost." This language, as the trial court explained, violates the DCHRA's prohibition against discrimination based on source of income.

Properties International is a property management, maintenance, and real-estate leasing firm, and Ernest Banks is the owner of, and a broker for, Properties International. Appellees " admit that as a business, they currently manage, care for[,] and offer for lease the property referenced in" the complaint.

ERC alleged that, after discovering the listing, it sent two certified letters; one to appellee Banks and another to appellee Properties International. Its intent in sending the letters was " to inform [appellees] of their unlawful conduct, to educate them on their responsibilities under the DCHRA, and to seek their cooperation in collaborating with the ERC to address their discriminatory conduct." In an attempt to negotiate a settlement, appellant prepared a draft agreement in which appellant demanded that all employees of Properties International " be required to complete a fair housing training course . . . [for a sum of money] to be invoiced by the ERC and paid by ...


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