National Property Management Firm Accused of Discrimination Based on Criminal History Policy

January 25, 2018
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A national property management company is facing a fair housing lawsuit alleging its criminal records screening policy discriminates against applicants based on their race and national origin.

In its complaint, the Equal Rights Center (ERC) alleged that the company maintained and enforced a criminal records screening policy that categorically barred individuals with criminal records from living at its properties. The complaint alleged that the company’s criminal records screening policy had an illegal and disproportionate effect on African-American and Latino applicants without a substantial, legitimate business justification and therefore violates the federal Fair Housing Act. According to the ERC, African-American and Latino housing applicants to the company’s properties were between two and 12 times as likely to be prevented from applying for an apartment due to the policy.

The complaint claimed that the company enforced the criminal records screening policy at more than 55 multifamily housing communities in 15 cities around the country. According to the complaint, the ERC’s investigation revealed that applicants who disclosed a felony conviction through the company’s online application portal were not even able to submit an application for review because a felony conviction worked as an absolute bar to applying for an apartment.

Advocates argue that blanket bans that automatically deny housing to people with criminal records without regard for factors like the nature of the crime or its severity, the time passed since the crime, or demonstrated rehabilitation can be discriminatory under fair housing law and contravenes recent HUD guidance on use of criminal background screening policies. HUD’s guidance, issued in April 2016, specifically explains that even where a housing provider implements “a more tailored policy or practice that excludes individuals with only certain types of convictions,” it “must still prove that its policy is necessary to serve a ‘substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest.’”

Source: Washington Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs