Louisiana Fair Housing Action Council v. Azalea Garden Properties
Neutral policies that harm people due to a protected status, like race, sex, or disability — even if they don’t intend to — create what’s called disparate impact. For example, it would be widely recognized as discrimination (or disparate treatment) if a landlord refused to rent to Black tenants. But what if the landlord had a policy that ended up disqualifying Black families at a much higher rate than other groups of tenants? If it was not related to a legitimate need of the business, it would be unlawful. That’s what this case is about.
In 2015, the civil rights nonprofit Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center sent testers to inquire about rental units at the Azalea Gardens apartment complex. While there, the testers mentioned having a criminal conviction. The details varied about the time and nature of each fictional criminal background. Each time, representatives indicated that a criminal offense would disqualify an applicant, no matter how long ago it occurred. This was even more restrictive than Azalea Gardens’ written policy, which stated only offenses occurring within the last five years would be disqualifying.
Are blanket bans like Azalea Gardens’ necessary? The facts show they are not. Tenants with criminal backgrounds, especially convictions more than a few years old, do not pose any more risk than tenants without criminal backgrounds. Blanket bans on tenants with criminal backgrounds are a poor way to screen applicants, and they have serious longterm effects on individuals, families, and communities. Because of over policing and inequality in the legal system, the ban affects people of color far more often — especially Black people.
We authored this brief to show the court the ways that blanket criminal background bans harm entire communities. We were joined in the brief by our allies at the National Fair Housing Alliance, Center for Responsible Lending, Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio, Greater Houston Fair Housing Center, and the North Texas Fair Housing Center.