By Carolina Bolado
A housing advocacy group hit a Florida apartment complex with a lawsuit Tuesday claiming its blanket ban on tenants with any prior felony convictions discriminates against applicants of color and violates the Fair Housing Act.
Florida Fair Housing Alliance Inc., a Miami-based advocacy group, said Winter Park, Florida, apartment complex Park Knowles Apartments is violating the FHA by rejecting applicants who have prior felony convictions, no matter how long ago the convictions happened or what the applicants have done since.
What Does The Lawsuit Against the Apartment Complex Claim?
Because the incarcerated population is disproportionately black and Hispanic, a blanket ban has the effect of discriminating against minority applicants, according to the suit. As the FFH Alliance noted:
“To combat the perpetuation of segregation and stem the discriminatory impact of needlessly unjust practices, housing providers large and small must evaluate and revise the role that criminal records screening policies and practices play in their application decisions to ensure that they are serving a substantial, legitimate, non-discriminatory interest and are not a proxy for racial discrimination.”
FFH Alliance says its field tester, a Hispanic man with a felony conviction, called the apartment complex’s manager last month to ask about available rental properties. He was told that a one-bedroom apartment was available, but when he asked if his rental application would be denied due to his felony record, he was told “Probably.”
What Does Federal Law Say About Renting to Ex-Felons?
The organization cites an April 2016 guidance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that says criminal history restrictions on housing applications will likely disproportionately burden black and Hispanic applicants. The HUD’s guidance also says that when a policy has a disparate impact on individuals of a particular race, it is illegal if it’s not necessary to serve a “substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest” of the housing provider. Formerly incarcerated individuals often struggle to find adequate housing, which is key to helping them get jobs and government benefits, according to the suit.
FFH Alliance’s attorney Jibrael Hindi said the organization has uncovered hundreds of FHA violations where landlords and management companies deny individuals with criminal records without looking into their backgrounds. As Hindi noted:
“We have settled dozens of cases and our settlements require that these apartment buildings comply with the 2016 HUD guidelines by making a meaningful inquiry into an applicant’s criminal background before making a determination. Since my client started this mission nearly a year ago, hundreds of apartment complexes have adopted their policies to comply with the law and to treat the nearly 100 million Americans with a criminal record fairly.”
A representative for Park Knowles Apartments could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Contact an Experienced Fair Housing Attorney Today
Contact attorney Jibrael S. Hindi of The Law Offices of Jibrael S. Hindi to find out how he can help you fight back against any form of housing discrimination. For a free consultation call (844) JIBRAEL or complete our contact form.