On November 5, 2019, The Fortune Society, a New York-based non-profit that provides housing and other services to formerly incarcerated individuals, announced that it had resolved its Fair Housing Act (FHA) lawsuit against the owners and operators of a large apartment community located in Queens, New York. The Defendants will pay The Fortune Society $1,187,500 in order to resolve the case.
This was one of the first cases in the country to challenge overly broad bans on renting to people with criminal records as discriminatory under the FHA. The Fortune Society had alleged in the case that (1) Defendants refused rental inquires for their clients because of their policy prohibiting anyone with a criminal record from residing there, and (2) Defendants’ policy was discriminatory in violation of the FHA because it disproportionately excluded African Americans and Latinos from housing, without considering each potential tenant’s individual circumstances.
The settlement is one of the largest to date in cases challenging “blanket ban” policies that exclude tenants because of a criminal background, regardless of the nature, severity, age of the record, or any rehabilitative efforts since the conviction.
Access to affordable housing is a central aspect to successful reintegration for the thousands of Americans and North Carolinians, disproportionately people of color, released from incarceration each year. According to a 2019 study cited by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, nearly 8 in 10 formerly incarcerated individuals reported ineligibility or denial of housing because of their or a loved one’s conviction history. In North Carolina, more than 16,000 people are released from federal and state correctional authorities each year.
The case should serve as a reminder to all North Carolinians of their legal rights and obligations under the FHA. A landlord’s tenant screening policies must evaluate each applicant as an individual; policies that automatically reject individuals with a criminal history likely violate the FHA.
More from this Newsletter Issue: Fall 2019
Subscribe to the Newsletter