Big-name Richmond landlords sued for refusing Section 8 vouchers

By: - October 18, 2021 4:40 pm

Virginia just launched its new Office of the Children’s Ombudsman, aimed at overseeing the state’s child welfare system. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

Twenty-nine real estate companies in the Richmond area are facing allegations they categorically refused potential tenants who planned to pay using government vouchers.

The companies, named in 13 lawsuits filed by Attorney General Mark Herring on Monday, own and operate some of the city’s more recognizable apartment complexes.

“Every single Virginian has the right to a safe, comfortable home, regardless of whether they have some assistance paying their rent,” Herring said in a statement. “Blocking Virginians who would use a Housing Choice Voucher to pay their rent is outright housing discrimination and will not be tolerated in Virginia.”

Who’s getting sued

Campus-Sydnor, LLC d/b/a The Sydnor Flats; CCSHP The Collection, LLC d/b/a The Collection Midtown; and Campus Apartments, LLC d/b/a Pierce Arrow Properties

PMC Kensington Court Apartments, LLC; 1806 East Franklin Street, LLC; 403 Stockton Street, LLC; PMC/Seaboard, LLC; and PMC Property Group, Inc

Harrison Street Development LLC and 18th Street Management, LLC

FC Cameron Kinney LLC and Brookfield Properties Multifamily, LLC

Studio Row LLC and Fulton Hill Properties, LLC

Shockoe Realty Ventures LLC and Gates, Hudson, and Associates, Inc.

Miller & Rhoads Condominium Association, Inc. and HRI Properties, LLC.

CB Richmond Associates, L.C. and Rangewater Residential, LLC

Historic Broad Pioneers, LLC d/b/a Metro Sound Apartments

Copper Springs Property LP and Bell Partners Inc.

MDO Champions LLC and CORE Realty Holdings Management, Inc.

Falling Creek BL Owner LLC and Brick Lane LLC

Dominion Realty Partners, LLC and Rivergate KW Management LLC

Virginia lawmakers voted last year to bar landlords from discriminating against potential tenants based on their source of income — language intended to end many property owners’ practice of refusing tenants who rely on Section 8 vouchers to pay rent.

Tenant advocates called it an important reform because despite having funds to pay rent, tenants relying on vouchers were often forced into less desirable rental units.

Under the program, tenants typically pay a third of their income toward rent and the government pays the difference. (For an apartment or house to be eligible for subsidy, total rent can’t exceed a federally-established fair market value for the specific metro area or county. In Virginia, that rate ranges from $676 for a one-bedroom apartment in Lynchburg to $1,500 in Northern Virginia.)

The Virginia Apartment Management Association opposed the legislation, arguing it was unfair to force landlords to accept the vouchers because the programs require contractual agreements with the government. They also criticized the local housing authorities that often administer the program as sometimes dysfunctional and hard to work with.

Herring announced the lawsuits in a news release, but as of Monday afternoon, none of the landlords named in the lawsuits who were reached by the Mercury were aware of the legal action.

At one of the properties named in the lawsuit, the Stables at Hancock, a representative asked for details about the lawsuit. “Oh,” said the representative, who did not provide a name, upon hearing of the allegations.

At Fulton Hill Properties, whose developments have been financed by the Virginia Housing Development Authority as mixed-income communities, a representative said they would comment after they had researched the allegations.

Efforts to reach the other named defendants were unsuccessful. They include the owners of River Lofts on Tobacco Row, Metro Sound Apartments and the Miller & Rhoads building.

The lawsuits each seek $70,000 in damages and penalties and request a “reasonable period of monitoring” to ensure compliance going forward.

Patrick McCloud, the director of the Virginia Apartment Management Association, said the organization has included information about the new law in its training materials for more than a year. “Unfortunately training takes time and I worry these examples highlight the challenges associated with changing laws to mandate private property owners participate in a government program that’s been voluntary 46 years,” he said.

Herring’s office worked with the New York-based Housing Rights Initiative, which uncovered the alleged violations by posing as potential renters hoping to pay with housing vouchers.

“A fair housing ally informed us to the possibility of housing voucher discrimination in Virginia,” said Housing Rights Initiative CEO Aaron Carr in a statement. “In response, we proactively and systematically conducted undercover investigations and found that dozens of real estate companies in the Richmond-area were not complying with the Virginia Fair Housing Law.”

Carr said that while the organization’s survey uncovered dozens of violations, “fortunately, it appears that the majority of real estate companies are complying in the Richmond-area, which speaks to the importance of having such laws on the books.”

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.