Landlords who refused to lease a property to an applicant that's failed a background check could be acting illegally, according to US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines recently published.
The guidance, published on April 4, states: “A policy or practice that denies housing to anyone with a prior arrest or any kind of criminal conviction cannot be justified.”
The new rules are a significant change from old practices, National Real Estate Investor reports. Back in the 1990s, the HUD once actively told public housing authorities not to rent out its subsidized properties to anyone with a criminal record. However, in light of the fact that almost a third of the US population now has some kind of criminal record, the HUD has been forced to abandon that policy. Also, the HUD notes that third-party companies that perform background checks often just say if the individual concerned has passed or failed, without providing any more details on the nature of the offense. That means applicants cannot contest errors or inaccuracies.
“Research shows that people who come out of prison and can’t find housing often become homeless, have high rates of recidivism and often end up back in prison,” said Elayne Weiss, policy analyst for the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “Their not having housing doesn’t help anyone.”
The new HUD guidance states that landlords and property managers need to scrutinize the details of each applicant's criminal history before making a decision. In particular, they should consider “the nature and severity of an individual’s conviction” and also “the amount of time that has passed”, so as to make a fair decision.
“Ensuring resident safety and protecting property are often considered to be among the fundamental responsibilities of a housing provider,” the guidance notes. “The Act does not prohibit housing providers from appropriately considering criminal history information when making housing decisions.”