By Victoria Merlino
After five years of litigation with a Far Rockaway landlord, a service organization for the formerly incarcerated scored a major victory against landlords who impose blanket bans on renting an apartment to people with criminal backgrounds.
“This settlement fires a warning shot across the bow of any landlord in America who blanketly refuses to rent apartments to people with criminal justice involvement,” President and CEO of The Fortune Society JoAnne Page said in a statement.
The Fortune Society, which assists formerly incarcerated New Yorkers with housing, job education and reentry, filed a lawsuit in 2014 against the owners of the Far Rockaway apartment complex “The Sand Castle,” after the building allegedly denied housing to Fortune’s clients. The owners, Sandcastle Towers Housing Development Fund Corp. and Sarasota Gold LLC, allegedly claimed that they do not rent to those who have criminal records, according to a complaint filed by Fortune.
Fortune argued that blanket bans violate the Fair Housing Act, a federal law that protects those seeking housing from discrimination. In 2016, the Justice Department filed a statement of interest in the case, saying that while it is not illegal for landlords to look at criminal records when considering an applicant, landlords must explain with evidence why they would need to ban an applicant for that reason beyond “generalized concerns about safety.”
The pre-trial settlement awarded Fortune $1.1875 million by the accused landlord, something Fortune said will deter future landlords for making a similar blanket ban.
“We entered this litigation with the goal of establishing legal precedent under the Fair Housing Act for challenging blanket bans imposed by private landlords on persons with criminal records,” Page said. “The Court’s summary judgment decision recognizes that right, and in so doing establishes important new legal precedent that Fortune and peer organizations can rely on in the future to bring lawsuits against landlords who exclude persons with records.”
A person reached by the Eagle at 7-11 Seagirt Ave.’s management office, the address of The Sand Castle, declined to comment about the case.