One of the first cases in the United States to challenge a landlord’s blanket ban on renting to people with criminal records as discriminatory, has resulted in a settlement for the plaintiff of more than a million dollars.
The plaintiff in that case, The Fortune Society (“Fortune”), is a non-profit organization that provides housing and other services to formerly incarcerated individuals.
Its complaint alleged that when it attempted to rent housing for clients in a large New York apartment complex, the defendant refused to rent to the clients because of a blanket policy prohibiting anyone with a criminal record from living there. Fortune alleged that the policy had a discriminatory effect because it disproportionately barred African-Americans and Latinos from housing without considering each potential tenant’s individual history and circumstances.
After the case was filed, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development issued guidance endorsing Fortune’s legal theory.
The settlement, totaling one million one hundred eighty-seven thousand five hundred dollars ($1,187,500.00), followed a district court ruling denying the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and allowing the case to proceed to trial.
In its decision the court rejected the defendant’s argument that Fortune did not have standing to bring the case because it was not personally harmed by the conduct.
This case serves as a stark warning to housing providers of their obligations to ensure that when they are screening out applicants as a result of criminal convictions they are required to conduct an individualized assessment in order to determine whether the particular applicant is likely to pose a significant risk of harm to other residents, staff or the property.
Anyone with questions about screening applicants who have criminal convictions is encouraged to contact legal counsel.
[Editor’s Note: A broad policy of denying housing to any prospective tenant with any type of criminal history would be considered discriminatory under the Federal Fair Housing Act. Landlords are allowed to have policies in place that deny housing to those with specific criminal pasts that could jeopardize the safety of other tenants or the property. (Some registered sex offenders and someone with a felony record for the sale or manufacturing of drugs. When looking at an applicant’s criminal history, a landlord also must consider the type of offense, the severity of the offense, and the length of time since the offense occurred.
For more information on renting to criminals, please refer to HUD’s Office of General Counsel advice at
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