New lawsuit challenges Chicagoland property manager for using a sweeping 25-year criminal background ban to violate civil rights

A property management company in Chicagoland has been discriminating against African American rental applicants by enforcing a blanket ban on individuals with criminal convictions that go as far back as 25 years, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court. 

Victor Adams Jr. filed the lawsuit after Park Apartments used a 20-year-old criminal conviction to deny his application to rent in a Brinshore development in Washington Park. The company’s policy relies on a “Look Back Period” over two decades longer than is recommended by HUD, and makes no allowance for any extenuating factors - factors that could show if an individual poses any current threats.

“Black people make up 15 percent of Illinois, but they account for 57 percent of our prison population because of deep structural inequities in our criminal justice system,” says attorney Barbara Barreno-Paschall of Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.

“If you’re automatically rejecting housing applicants due to a record from half a lifetime ago, then you’re just perpetuating a shocking racial disparity.”

Civil rights attorneys allege that the management company, as well as a string of Northbrook-based property owners, are violating the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

“A 25-year Look Back Period is an extreme policy among property managers,” says Gianna Baker of Housing Action Illinois. “We hope this lawsuit succeeds in setting a federal precedent to outlaw these practices.”

Mr. Adams was convicted in 1997 and served around six years in prison for armed robbery. Immediately after his release, he earned an Associate’s degree and a Bachelor’s degree while living with his terminally ill mother in order to care for her. Today, Mr. Adams and his partner are the parents of a one-year-old daughter. Seeking to move his family from Englewood to a safer neighborhood, he applied for a Washington Park apartment last fall in a building that could accommodate his physical disabilities.

“We have this beautiful daughter, and we’re just looking to give her a better life,” says Mr. Adams. “It feels like you’re still paying your debt to society.”

Despite assurances that his 20-year-old conviction wouldn’t be an issue, Mr. Adams was rejected categorically on this basis and subjected to financial and emotional distress. He is represented by a team of attorneys from Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Winston & Strawn LLP.

Fair HousingTimna Axel