Fair housing lawsuit settled in Garden City

GARDEN CITY, GA (WTOC) - The conclusion of a fair housing lawsuit years in the making is finally reached.

The apartment management group and the City of Garden City agreed to pay a little more than $112,000 to be doled out to 14 former tenants.

Savannah-Chatham County's Fair Housing Council says the groundbreaking suit was brought on behalf of 14 African-American mothers who lived in the Westgate Apartments in 2012.

The lawsuit was against the owners and managers of the Pines at Garden City - formerly Westgate Apartments - and the City of Garden City, challenging their ban on tenants with criminal records.

The case began nearly six years ago when one of the tenants being evicted reached out to the Savannah-Chatham County Fair Housing Council. According to the lawsuit, the landlord over Westgate with the help of the Garden City Police Department delivered eviction notices demanding tenants with previously-disclosed criminal records leave within three days.

A year later and under new ownership, Westgate instituted a rule barring any tenant found guilty of most misdemeanors or felonies within the last 99 years couldn't apply to live there.

"The significance of this case is that this was brought on a disparate impact theory. So basically, you've got a policy which on its face may seem neutral, but whenever it's implemented...it has a discriminatory effect on people of color or families with children," said Wayne Dawson, Director of the Savannah-Chatham County Fair Housing Council. "We felt like that there was discriminatory impact based on this policy. There were other policies that were put in place such as curfews. There was a ten o' clock curfew that was implemented and folks being stopped by the police department when they went to get groceries or they had to return late because of their job, the nature of their job...they got off late."

Dawson added, "It took a while to get justice, but we feel like we did get justice for the folks that had been discriminated against."

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