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New York Based Ex-Offender Assistance Program Sues Landlord for Discrimination

On October 30, 2014 the Fortune Society filed suit in United States District Court for the Eastern District in Brooklyn alleging that a New York City apartment complex’s refusal to rent to ex-offenders amounts to racial discrimination and violates both the federal Fair Housing Act and New York State law. Since its construction, the owners of the Sand Castle apartment complex have implemented a blanket ban on renting to anyone with a criminal conviction.

The suit alleges that the use of prior convictions to disqualify applicants creates a clear disparate impact against Blacks and Latinos on the basis of race. Roughly 95% of Fortune Society’s clients are either Black or Latino. According to Fortune, Blacks and Latinos are disqualified at a rate between three and four and one-half times higher than whites and that the use of past convictions to disqualify these minorities is the Defendant’s way of attracting white tenants.

The Fortune Society is a highly respected non-profit organization that has helped ex-offenders successfully transition back into society for nearly fifty years.  They assist ex-offenders with education, employment, health and housing programs. Through what is called a “scattered-site” program Fortune has successfully cultivated relationships with over 100 landlords throughout the city. They also operate a 114 unit apartment building for low income families and formerly incarcerated individuals.

JoAnne Page, Fortune’s President and CEO, said, “If you have no place to live when you leave prison, what chance do you have to make it? A blanket ban on housing, like the one imposed by these defendants, fuels a vicious cycle of recidivism and denies deserving individuals a fair chance to become fully contributing members of their communities.”

Attorney John P. Relman , founder of the Washington based Civil Rights firm Relman, Dane & Colfax, represents the Fortune Society. He also specializes in housing discrimination cases. According to Relman, “Bans on housing and employment for those re-entering society from prison fall disproportionately and overwhelmingly on African-American and Hispanic men… creates a racial caste system and driv[es] this population back to prison.”

Mitchell Posilkin, general counsel for the Rent Stabilization Association defends the rights of landlords to ban ex-offenders saying, “If, God forbid, that person commits a crime, the other tenants would sue the owner for allowing a high-risk individual into their building.”

 In 2013 and 2014 Sandcastle refused to do any business with Fortune once they learned that Fortune helps ex-offenders. Fortune alleges that Sandcastle’s refusal to rent to its clients was more about race than risk and that their clients are excluded “regardless of the nature of the conviction, the amount of time that has lapsed since the conviction, evidence of rehabilitation, or any other factor related to whether a specific person poses any threat to safety.”

Fortune’s suit requests that each prospective tenant be reviewed on an individual basis. They also seek injunctive relief enjoining the Defendants from future use of the blanket ban, compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.

Sources:, New York Times

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