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Jan. 12 - Federal Fair Housing lawsuit against the City of Garden City, Georgia and the Pines at Garden City results in victory for fair housing

Savannah Business Journal Staff Report

January 12, 2018 - The owners and managers of the Pines at Garden City (formerly known as Westgate Apartments) and the City of Garden City, Georgia recently settled a four-year long, federal fair housing case challenging their ban of tenants with criminal records.

Defendants American Apartment Management Co., Inc., CHG Westgate and the City of Garden City agreed to pay plaintiffs $112,500.00, plus their attorneys’ fees, and to comply with the Fair Housing Act in a judgment entered in the US District Court for the Southern District of Georgia on Nov. 22, 2017. 

The lawsuit challenged defendants’ attempts to evict residents based on their criminal backgrounds — most for minor offenses, others more than a decade old. The Plaintiffs alleged that overly restrictive criminal background standards discriminate on the basis of race without advancing any legitimate, nondiscriminatory objective.

The groundbreaking lawsuit was brought on behalf of fourteen African-American mothers who lived at Westgate Apartments in 2012 by the Savannah-Chatham County Fair Housing Council, Inc. (SCFHC).

The case began when SCFHC responded to tenant complaint in February 2012, that the Garden City Police Department (GCPD) and Westgate’s landlord demanded that they abandon their homes within three days based on tenants’ previously-disclosed criminal records.

A year later, Westgate was purchased - with the blessing of the City - by new owners who instituted a more draconian rule, barring any tenant who had a record of conviction for most misdemeanors or felonies at any time within the past 99 years. 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 Fair Housing Act," said Wayne Dawson, SCFHC’s Executive Director. "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.’’

Plaintiffs were represented by the Woolf Law Firm of Savannah, GA and Brancart & Brancart of Pescadero, CA. 

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