The ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit against the owners of the Sterling Glen Apartments in Chesterfield County, alleging that the apartment complex’s application policies discriminate against African Americans.
According to WCVE News, Sterling Glen’s rental application states that a criminal background check will be conducted for every applicant and that applicants will be rejected for felony convictions, illegal drug-related convictions, and even some unresolved charges.
The lawsuit contends that Sterling Glen’s policy of automatically banning felons and some misdemeanants from living at the property is intended to keep black people from living in the mostly-white neighborhood and disproportionately harms people of color.
“Bans like these not only pose a barrier to people reentering the community after release from jail or prison, but also those with records who have been living and working in the community for years or even decades,” Jenifer Safstrom of the ACLU of Virginia said.
Safstrom also told WCVE that property owners can refuse to rent to anyone on a case-by-case basis, but said that blanket bans like the one Sterling Glen implemented disproportionately impact communities of color, violating federal and state law, and carrying over inequalities from the criminal justice system to housing. African Americans make up only 22% of the population in Chesterfield County, but have 46% of felony convictions.
Sterling Glen Property Manager Clayton Wisely told WCVE the company doesn’t have a blanket ban on renters with criminal histories and said the application alluding to the blanket ban is misleading.
But an investigation by Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc. (HOME), a fair housing organization, indicated otherwise. WCVE reported that between June 2017 and January 2019, HOME employees posed as prospective tenants with felony convictions and in each case, an agent at Sterling Glen told them they would be automatically rejected because of the felony.
“We want landlords to understand that blanket bans are not an effective remedy to ensure the health and safety of your residents,” said C. Alexander Guzmán, director of fair housing for HOME of Virginia.
The ACLU is seeking to obtain a permanent injunction to force Sterling Glen’s owners to revise their criminal records policy so that they are in line with anti-discriminatory state and federal housing laws.