The deal, which resolves a lawsuit filed in 2014 against the owners of the Sand Castle apartment complex in Far Rockaway, was hailed Tuesday by the Fortune Society as an important legal precedent.
“This settlement fires a warning shot across the bow of any landlord in America who blanketly refuses to rent apartments to people with criminal justice involvement,” Fortune Society CEO JoAnne Page said in a release announcing the deal.
“Landlords will take notice of its deterrent effect. Many will look more closely at whether they have policies that comport with the law, and they will be concerned about the exposure for costly litigation.”
The Fortune Society, which is a major provider of services for formerly incarcerated people, had charged in Brooklyn Federal Court that the 917-unit apartment complex on Seagirt Ave. had a policy of automatically refusing to rent an apartment to a person with a criminal record, regardless of the nature of the conviction or the amount of time that had passed since the crime.
The corporations that owned and managed the building, Sandcastle Towers Housing Development Fund Corp., Weissman Realty Group and Sarasota Gold, did not admit liability in the settlement. They no longer control the building or any other rental housing.
It was unclear how many people were affected by Sand Castle’s ban on people who had done time. The Fortune Society learned of the policy in 2013 after receiving a grant to help cover rent for 25 apartments in Queens. The nonprofit tried to rent apartments in Sand Castle because it is safe, affordable and near a supermarket.
The society charged that Sand Castle violated the federal Fair Housing Act through the ban on ex-cons, which they said disproportionately affected black and Hispanic people. The group said the settlement of $1,187,500 is one of the largest, if not the largest, ever in a lawsuit involving similar allegations. Once Fortune inquired with Sand Castle, staffers informed them of the blanket ban on anyone with a criminal record from renting an apartment or living in the building.
“When housing providers deny basic rights to those who have been formerly incarcerated, they are imposing harsh limitations on where these individuals can live and work which perpetuate poverty and segregation, and dramatically increase the likelihood that they will return to prison,” John Relman, an attorney for the Fortune Society, said.
Attorneys for Sand Castle did not respond to an inquiry.