A Chesterfield County, Va., apartment complex and its management have agreed to change their blanket policy on criminal record screening to settle a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, the ACLU of Virginia, and the civil rights law firm Relman, Dane & Colfax, PLLC, on behalf of Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc. (HOME).
The new policy should be an industry model for how landlords can screen applicants fairly and avoid discrimination, according to the attorneys in the case.
The lawsuit, filed June 4 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, argued that the screening policy used by Sterling Glen Apartments, Wisely Properties, LLC, and Multifamily management Services, Inc., discriminated against people on the basis of race.
The revised policy only considers specific categories of offenses, excludes misdemeanors convictions, and does not treat people differently based on whether the applicant is on probation or parole.
Most importantly, the policy assures individualized consideration for every applicant, allowing a prospective tenant to share information as part of the application review process, including the facts or circumstances surrounding their criminal conduct, proof of rehabilitation efforts, and evidence of a good tenant or employment history before or after the conviction or conduct.
“By adopting this new policy, Wisely has become a model and example for all housing providers in Virginia who do not conduct an individualized criminal background screening,” said Heather Mullins Crislip, president and CEO of HOME. “A policy that first screens applicants on their income and credit, then allows for a limited and relevant criminal background screening creates a more diverse community and helps many people who are trying to get their lives back on track be members of their community of choice. We’re grateful that Wisely took our concerns for equity in the process seriously and that we were able to work out an ideal policy.”
This lawsuit was particularly important because it addressed applicant screening processes that had a disproportionate and discriminatory effect on African-American in a predominantly white part of Chesterfield County.
Also, as part of the settlement, the respondents agreed to train their employees in fair housing and make a $15,000 donation to HOME to continue HOME’s systemic work to uncover and address housing discrimination. They also will pay damages and attorney’s fees related to the matter.
In reaching a settlement, both sides quickly came to the table to change Sterling Glen’s policies to comply with the federal Fair Housing Act and the Virginia Fair Housing law and to, most importantly, benefit applicants.
The original complaint is here.
The settlement is available here.
Sterling Glen’s new model policy is available here.