ACLU files lawsuit against Chesterfield apartment complex owners

ACLU files lawsuit against Chesterfield apartment complex owners

CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WWBT) - The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the owners of a Chesterfield apartment complex for its policy banning all applicants with a criminal record. The property owner says that’s just not true.

Wisely Properties and Multifamily Management own the Sterling Glen apartments in Woodlake.

There are laws preventing property owners from discriminating against applicants. The ACLU says the owners of the apartments ignored those laws and claims the discrimination is clear from the second page of their housing application.

The housing application the ACLU obtained in 2017 says “the applicant will be rejected for any of the following reported criminal related reasons: Felony conviction, any illegal drug related conviction, and sex or prostitution related conviction, animal cruelty conviction or active probation status."

The application NBC12 obtained this week only states background checks “will be” conducted.

The ACLU says background checks aren’t unlawful.

“They (property managers) can ask the question, but they’re legally required to look at more,” Jennifer Safstrom, a lawyer on the case with the ACLU, said.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released a 2016 guidance saying “disparate” - or unfair - methods of reviewing housing applications are discriminatory, "such as a refusal to rent or renew a lease based on an individual’s criminal history.”

That 2017 application says applicants with certain criminal backgrounds will be rejected - the one NBC12 obtained does not.

Safstom says the suit is three fold.

The ACLU hopes to stop Sterling Glen apartments from unlawful practices, serve as a warning to other property managers and informs potential applicants of their rights.

“(The property owners) ignored federal guidance, statistics and warnings from community groups- it (the accused discrimination) seems purposeful," Safstrom said.

The owner insists the original background check clause was only to notify applicants of a background check, not to blanket ban criminals.

If you believe you were a victim of housing discrimination, you have a right to file a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The number to call is 800-669-9777

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