Is manager’s zero-tolerance policy on criminal activity legal?

Martin Eichner (Los Angeles Times) | July 19, 2013

Question: My company owns and manages several large rental communities. After very strong encouragement from our local police department, I agreed to establish a “zero tolerance” policy for criminal activity by any of our residents.

If a police call to one of our properties results in a police report naming a resident, or if it results in a resident being arrested, that action constitutes the “one and final strike” against the resident. That resident and anyone else living in the same unit will be immediately evicted. We have incorporated this policy into our rental agreements.

Recently, I heard on television that this type of policy might be viewed as discriminatory under the fair housing laws.

I’m not trying to discriminate against anyone. I’m just promoting safety by prohibiting crime in my complex and keeping good relations with the police. Do I need to reconsider this zero-tolerance policy?

Answer: This type of policy does raise a fair housing concern because it may result in discrimination based on the policy’s disparate effect.

The most obvious type of discrimination is “intentional discrimination,” such as overtly refusing to rent to Latinos. However, discrimination also can occur when an apparently neutral policy or practice still has the effect of discriminating against a particular group of people when it is applied.

In your case, although you might not have the intent to discriminate against anyone at your property, a very broad zero-tolerance policy may have the effect of singling out people or groups protected under the fair housing laws. For example, there is some evidence that certain ethnic groups are more likely to be stopped or arrested, regardless of whether they have engaged in actual criminal activity.

A female resident may find herself the victim of domestic violence when she is attacked by her fiance. According to your policy, if the police are called, and they arrest the fiance, everyone in the household — including the female victim — would be evicted.

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