Nationwide Property Management Company Policy of Excluding Individuals Because of Criminal History is Race and National Origin Discrimination

Today, the promise of meaningful housing choice provided in our federal and local fair housing laws continues to be illusory as housing segregation based on race and national origin persists across the nation. Increasingly, property management companies are utilizing arbitrary criminal record bans to exclude individuals with criminal histories—most of whom are African American or Latino—even though efficient and effective alternatives exist to ensure legitimate interests. 

Mid-America Apartment Communities, Inc., and Mid- America Apartments, L. P. (collectively, “MAA”) is one such property management company to have implemented this kind of arbitrary and punitive policy. As Committee client the Equal Rights Center (“ERC”) discovered through its investigation, MAA and a predecessor entity, Post Properties, which MAA acquired in December 2016, adopted a criminal records ban which categorically barred individuals with criminal records from living at MAA’s properties. Of particular significance, applicants who disclosed a felony conviction through the MAA online application portal were not able to submit an application for review because a felony conviction operated as an absolute bar to applying for housing.

The effect of MAA’s ban has been far-reaching throughout its 55 apartment communities. As the ERC’s data shows, African American and Latino housing applicants to MAA properties located in the District, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Texas, and North Carolina were between two and twelve times as likely to be prevented from applying for an apartment as a result of MAA’s criminal records screening policy. Because of the discriminatory impact of the policy on African Americans and Latinos who comprised the majority of income-eligible applicants with criminal histories, MAA’s criminal records ban constitutes a violation of the Fair Housing Act and contravenes guidance issued by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”). What’s more, the ban fails to consider factors like the nature of the crime or its severity, the time passed since the crime, or demonstrated rehabilitation, as HUD Guidance suggests landlords do in the first instance, as additionally explained in the complaint. 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.”

The use of a criminal history ban perpetuates the race bias embedded in our criminal legal system without enhancing legitimate business interests. MAA has the ability, like other housing providers, to conduct an individualized assessment of potential residents with a criminal history that considers factors relevant to the prospective individual’s qualifications for tenancy yet it chose not do so from November 2016, or earlier, though at least January 2017. Adopting an individualized assessment would not only reduce unlawful discrimination but ensure that applicants with prior involvement with the criminal justice system are ensured equal housing opportunity and the chance to choose where to live without regard to the color of their skin.

”Race and national origin discrimination is alive and well in the nation’s housing market leading to increased segregation and inequality. Overt racial bans have been replaced by criminal history tests and other mechanisms that exclude people of color. Discriminatory practices must be challenged when and where they occur,” said Jonathan Smith, Executive Director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee.

 

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