On June 4, 2019, Relman Colfax filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc. (HOME) against the owner and management company of Sterling Glen Apartments in Chesterfield County, Virginia, challenging their one-size-fits-all policy of rejecting any and all applicants with criminal backgrounds as racially discriminatory.
Sterling Glen Apartments made no secret of its policy: it openly maintained a written policy of barring applicants who have any felony (or selected misdemeanor) conviction. Notably, Sterling Glen’s policy allowed no exceptions based on how long ago the conduct occurred, whether the crime bore any relationship to what sort of tenant the resident might be, whether there was evidence of rehabilitation, or whether the applicant had been a good tenant elsewhere. In Chesterfield County, a black resident is three times more likely than a white resident to have a felony or misdemeanor conviction.
Filed in the Richmond Division of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, the case alleged that Defendants’ criminal background policy discriminated against black residents in Chesterfield County in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act and the Virginia Fair Housing Law.
On August 6, 2019, the firm reached a settlement in which Sterling Glen agreed to revamp its policy on criminal record screening. The revised policy only considers specific categories of offenses using a five year look back period, excludes all arrests, misdemeanor convictions and vacated or reversed convictions, and does not treat people differently based on whether the applicant is on probation or parole. Most importantly, the policy assures individualized consideration for every applicant with a history of specific felony convictions. This process allows prospective tenants to share information with Sterling Glen as part of the application review, including providing the facts or circumstances surrounding the conviction, proof of rehabilitation efforts, and evidence of good tenant or employment history. The new policy should be an industry model for how landlords can screen applicants fairly and avoid discrimination. In 2021 it was adopted as the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Model Policy for Tenant Screening to increase housing options for persons with previous nonviolent criminal convictions.
In addition, Defendants agreed to train their employees in fair housing and make a donation to HOME to allow HOME to continue its work of uncovering and addressing housing discrimination. Defendants also agreed to pay damages and attorneys’ fees related to the matter.
Relman Colfax’s litigation team was led by Glenn Schlactus, Tara Ramchandani, Sara Pratt, and Orly May. Rachel Goodman, Alejandro Ortiz, and Joshua David Riegel of the ACLU Foundation, and Eden Heilman and Jennifer Safstrom of the ACLU Foundation of Virginia, were co-counsel.
Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc. v. Wisely Properties, LLC and Multifamily Management Services, Inc., No. 3:19-cv-413 (E.D. Va.)
News & Updates
In the Media
- Attorney General Herring and Housing Partners Launch New Tool to Reduce Housing Discrimination, Increase Housing Options for Virginians with ConvictionsCommonwealth of Virginia, Office of the Attorney General, 04.30.2021
- ACLU of Virginia, 08.06.2019
- Chesterfield Observer, 06.12.2019
- Washington Post, 06.05.2019
- The Root, 06.04.2019
- Richmond Times-Dispatch, 06.04.2019
- ACLU Blog, 06.04.2019