January 3, 2022
While the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic is still front of mind for real estate attorneys, a diverse range of legal challenges are expected to take the spotlight in 2022, touching on everything from fair housing law to eminent domain.
Here, Law360 looks at three real estate-related disputes lawyers will be watching in 2022.
Tenant Screener Faces Discrimination Claims
A federal lawsuit in Connecticut headed to trial in March aims to establish that third-party tenant screening services that landlords use to assess a prospective renter must adhere to federal anti-discrimination law.
The suit, targeting CoreLogic Rental Property Solutions – now SafeRent Solutions and no longer affiliated with CoreLogic – was filed in 2018 by Connecticut Fair Housing Center and Carmen Arroyo, the mother and conservator of a young man who saw his application for an apartment rejected in 2016 based on “disqualifying” criminal records.
The plaintiffs argue that SafeRent violates the Fair Housing Act because its CrimSAFE product can disqualify a renter simply based on the existence of a criminal charge or conviction, disproportionately impacting Black and Latino renters.
The defendant has argued that the FHA applies to housing providers, not background screeners, and that landlords are the ultimate decision makers when it comes to choosing a tenant. And, that landlords are justified in screening out certain tenants to protect their property and the safety of other residents.
Eric Dunn, director of litigation for the National Housing Law Project, is co-counsel for the plaintiffs. He pointed to 2016 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development guidance that urges property owners to contextualize an individual’s criminal history.
“What we would like to see is that landlords don’t just use computers and have some kind of automated decision,” he said.
In the case of Arroyo, her son’s shoplifting charge was ultimately dropped and pre-dated a traumatic brain injury that limited his ability to walk or speak, according to the suit.
Thomas Silverstein, associate director of the Fair Housing & Community Development Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said the suit is a good test for advocates.
“It is responsive to the challenges posed by widespread adoption of new technology in the housing industry, and making sure that … advocates can keep up with the pace of change and still secure effective remedies,” he said.
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Cohen Milstein’s Christine E. Webber, Co-Chair of the firm’s Civil Rights & Employment practice, is the lead trial counsel in this case: Connecticut Fair Housing Center v. CoreLogic Rental Property Solutions LLC, case number 3:18-cv-00705, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.
The complete article can be accessed here.