ACLU Takes Aim at Landlord in Rental Fairness Dispute

By Michael Klazema on 6/20/2019

A criminal record can prove a troublesome barrier to many necessities, from securing gainful employment to getting approved for a place to live. As a result of the problems that often stem from those difficulties, a range of regulations has been passed by both state and federal lawmakers that are intended to promote fairness and non-discrimination. Typical among those provisions is the stipulation that, particularly for housing, landlords may not summarily deny applicants based on their criminal history; otherwise, supporters contend, it might become impossible for felons to locate housing.

According to a report by Virginia affiliate NBC 12, alleged violations of these laws have put one landlord in hot water. 

In a suit filed on behalf of former applicants to an apartment complex in the small community of Woodlake, the ACLU claims that as recently as 2017, the property management company used an application that plainly stated those with felony convictions and other criminal charges would be denied and their applications would never be fully considered. The application went even further, barring applicants who were on probation. 

The ACLU claims that these procedures were clearly discriminatory. The landlords insist that the suit is based on a misunderstanding—their original statement was meant only to serve as a notification that applicants would face a required background check. Many property owners rely on criminal history searches, such as's US OneSEARCH, to vet potential tenants for suitability. As NBC 12 reports, the apartment complex's current application does not feature the 2017 language and contains only a notification of a background check. 

The ACLU claims that the original statement does not seem to aim to notify applicants but rather to warn them of disqualifying conditions. While a landlord may consider criminal history facts, failing to consider the full breadth of an applicant's suitability by using a blanket ban on criminal charges treads closer to the line of illegal discrimination. 

The stated goal of the ACLU is to ensure that all prospective tenants know their right to an equal opportunity to secure housing while warning landlords and property managers that there are consequences to violating the principles of non-discrimination. The organization wants to ensure that the apartment complex in Woodlake ceases any discriminatory practices.

Evaluating an applicant's criminal record is not an unusual step for landlords—in fact, it is often an integral part of their effort to see the bigger picture of an applicant’s suitability along with checking creditworthiness, contacting references, and other vetting steps. It is important for property owners to consider the total of what they learn through an application rather than letting one factor—such as a past conviction—influence their decision. 

Access to the right tools helps landlords to see a complete picture. With's robust set of tools, including background and credit checks, property owners can take steps towards instituting effective and compliant procedures. 

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