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Fair-housing suit settled with Garden City defendants

$112,500 plus undetermined attorneys fees agreed on to end four-year dispute.

The owners and managers of a Garden City apartment complex and the city of Garden City have agreed to pay $112,500 plus undetermined attorneys fees to settle a four-year-long federal fair housing case challenging their ban of tenants having criminal records within 99 years.

Defendants American Apartment Management Co. Inc., owners/managers of the Pines of Garden City, and the city of Garden City also agreed to comply with the Fair Housing Act to end the suit filed in U.S. District Court.

n the suit, initiated by the Savannah-Chatham County Fair Housing Council Inc., 14 black mothers who lived in what was then the Westgate Apartments, located at 145 Wheathill Drive in Garden City, alleged in February 2012 that the defendants attempted to evict residents based on their criminal backgrounds – most for minor offenses, others more than a decade old, said Wayne Dawson, council executive director.

The plaintiffs alleged that overly restrictive criminal background standards discriminated on the basis of race without advancing any legitimate, nondiscriminatory objective.

The suit alleged that Garden City was highly segregated and had a “historical legacy” of discrimination.

Savannah attorney Wesley Woolf and attorney Christopher Branscart of Pescadero, Calif., represented the plaintiffs.

The case began when the local fair housing council responded to a tenant complaint in February 2012 that the Garden City Police Department and Westgate’s landlord demanded that they abandon their homes within three days based on tenants’ previously disclosed criminal records, Dawson said.

The suit alleged that ownership and management at Westgate changed, but discriminatory housing practices against tenants did not.

In July 2013, CHG Westgate and American Management Co. Inc. instituted a “99-year rule” barring tenants if a person in the family has a record – felony or misdemeanor – within the past 99 years.  Read More

That was followed by another round of evictions, the suit said, adding that the policy remains part of the complex’s “tenant selection plan.”

Evictions filed by the landlord enforcing the new 99-year rule were stopped by Georgia Legal Service attorneys.

“A blanket 99-year criminal conviction history ban violates the (federal) Fair Housing Act,” Dawson said. ‘It has a disproportionate impact on minorities without advancing any legitimate business objective. It’s also simply unfair and makes it difficult for folks to find housing in an already-tight housing market.’’

Representatives ofthe defendants declined to comment, citing matters still pending in the courts.