ERC RESOLVES RACE DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT AGAINST NATION’S LARGEST PRIVATE LANDLORD
Consent order requires individualized review of housing applicants with certain criminal convictions
For media inquiries, contact: Kate Scott, Deputy Director, Equal Rights Center, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-370-3220
Washington, D.C.– October 5th, 2018- Today, the Equal Rights Center (“ERC”) announced the resolution of claims against Mid-America Apartment Communities, Inc., and Mid-America Apartments, L.P. (“MAA”) that its exclusion of housing applicants with certain criminal records, including any felony conviction, discriminated against such individuals on the basis of race and national origin. To resolve the lawsuit, the parties entered into a court enforced agreement that requires MAA to immediately adopt a criminal background screening policy that individually assesses applicants with criminal convictions. In its complaint, the ERC alleged that MAA maintained and enforced a criminal records screening policy that categorically barred an untold number of individuals with criminal histories from living at their properties in violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The lawsuit was filed in 2017 in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
African American and Latino housing applicants to MAA properties were between two and twelve times as likely to be prevented from applying for an apartment due to MAA’s previous policy. The lawsuit claimed that MAA’s criminal records screening policy had an illegal and disproportionate effect on African American and Latino applicants in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The over-breadth of the policy excluded many people of color without providing any greater safety or security to MAA tenants, particularly in light of other less discriminatory screening mechanisms. In addition to requiring MAA to utilize an individualized assessment of each applicant with a criminal conviction limited to a specified period of time depending on the offense, the new policy prohibits the consideration of arrests or pending charges, expunged convictions, and convictions reversed on appeal or where a new trial has been ordered but not held. Applicants with convictions flagged through MAA’s third-party service provider will be afforded the opportunity to provide additional information for MAA’s consideration under the new policy.
The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and Relman, Dane & Colfax, PLLC represented the ERC in the matter.
“We hope that this agreement will lead to a fundamentally fairer approach to criminal records screening in rental housing around the country,” says ERC Executive Director Melvina Ford. “We know that relying on the fact of a criminal record alone will lead to racial discrimination in housing, which is unfair and illegal. By making an individualized assessment core to its criminal background screening process, MAA is more likely to make decisions about tenancy based on actual risk, and not just the racially disparate impact of mass incarceration.”
Through its new policy, MAA will individually assess applicants with certain criminal convictions using factors like:
- The facts or circumstances surrounding the criminal conduct;
- The age of the individual at the time of the occurrence of the offense and the time that has elapsed since the occurrence of the conduct; and
- Evidence of rehabilitation efforts, among other factors.
Jonathan Smith, Executive Director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, states: “The collateral consequences of a person’s involvement in the criminal legal system, including negative impacts on their abilities to find a home or a job, are some of the most significant racial justice issues of our time. By reaching agreements like this through litigation, we are working to realize the Fair Housing Act’s true promise.”
MAA tops the National Multifamily Housing Council’s list of fifty largest apartment owners in the country, and had ownership interest in 101,362 apartment homes, including those in communities under development, across 17 states and the District of Columbia as of June 2018.
“The agreement we reached in this case has the potential to change criminal records screening practices across the rental housing industry to make them more compliant with the Fair Housing Act,” says John Relman, of Relman, Dane & Colfax, PLLC. “Through this agreement, we’ve been able to move the pendulum significantly in the interest of justice and fairness.”
In addition to the policy adopted as part of the agreement, MAA also made a payment to the ERC for damages and attorneys’ fees. The consent order is available here. A copy of the complaint, filed in December 2017, is available here.
ABOUT THE EQUAL RIGHTS CENTER: The ERC is a civil rights organization that identifies and seeks to eliminate unlawful and unfair discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations in its home community of Greater Washington DC and nationwide. The ERC’s core strategy for identifying unlawful and unfair discrimination is civil rights testing. When the ERC identifies discrimination, it seeks to eliminate it through the use of testing data to educate the public and business community, support policy advocacy, conduct compliance testing and training, and, if necessary, take enforcement action. For more information, please visit www.equalrightscenter.org.
ABOUT THE WASHINGTON LAWYERS’ COMMITTEE: The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs was established in 1968 to provide pro bono legal services to address issues of discrimination and entrenched poverty. Since then, it has successfully handled thousands of civil rights cases on behalf of individuals and groups in the areas of fair housing, equal employment opportunity, public accommodations, immigrant rights, disability rights, public education, and prisoners’ rights. For more information, please visit www.washlaw.org.
ABOUT RELMAN DANE & COLFAX: Relman, Dane & Colfax is one of the largest plaintiff-side fair housing law firms in the country. Based in Washington, D.C., the Relman firm is responsible for significant legal decisions in civil rights cases, including those in Independent Living Center of Southern California v. City of Los Angeles (accessibility of municipal affordable housing program); National Fair Housing Alliance v. Spanos (ensuring accessibility in housing design and construction); United States ex rel. Anti-Discrimination Center v. Westchester County (housing desegregation); Kennedy v. City of Zanesville (access to public services); and Baltimore v. Wells Fargo and Memphis v. Wells Fargo (discriminatory lending). More information about the firm’s cases is available at www.relmanlaw.com.