In the past most private landlords had the right to issue blanket denials to applicants if they hard an arrest record or served time in prison for a prior offense.
Although it’s certainly been a private landlords right to rent to whomever they want the reality is that blanket denials have made it difficult for some tenants across the United States who have been trying to rent a single family home, town home or condo but may have had an arrest ir conviction in the past.
Private landlords who have blanket bans on renting to people with criminal records are in violation of the Fair Housing Act and can be sued and face penalties for discrimination, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development said.
Julián Castro, the HUD secretary, is expected on Monday to announce guidancethat details his agency’s interpretation of how the fair housing law applies to policies that exclude people with criminal records, a group that is not explicitly protected by the act but falls under it in certain circumstances. Federal officials said landlords must distinguish between arrests and convictions and cannot use an arrest to ban applicants. In the case of applicants with convictions, property owners must prove that the exclusion is justified and consider factors like the nature and severity of the crime in assessing prospective tenants before excluding someone.
Mr. Castro said housing bans against former offenders were common.
“Right now, many housing providers use the fact of a conviction, any conviction, regardless of what it was for or how long ago it happened, to indefinitely bar folks from housing opportunities,” Mr. Castro said in a statement. “Many people who are coming back to neighborhoods are only looking for a fair chance to be productive members, but blanket policies like this unfairly deny them that chance.”
The new federal housing guidance applies a legal standard that was upheld by the United States Supreme Court last year that allows plaintiffs to challenge housing practices that have a discriminatory effect without having to show discriminatory intent. The ruling allows plaintiffs to show instead that the practices both have a “disparate impact” on racial groups and are not justified. Blacks and Latinos are arrested, convicted and imprisoned in disproportionate numbers, and civil rights groups say they face equally disparate discrimination in finding housing.
Federal housing officials said the guidance was meant to emphasize to landlords that blanket bans are illegal, as well as to inform housing applicants of their rights. Housing officials said they can investigate violations and bring discrimination charges against landlords that could result in civil penalties for them, and damages for a person denied housing.
Lawyers who represent former prisoners said they expected HUD’s stance to lead landlords to revise their screening policies to avoid litigation. The guidance, which is similar to an instruction federal officials already have for public and subsidized housing, could also lead to more and stronger lawsuits against those who continue to deny housing based on criminal history.
“The agency in charge of interpreting the Fair Housing Act agrees with us, and that will have a lot of weight,” said John P. Relman, a lawyer and specialist in housing discrimination cases who is representing the social services group Fortune Societyin a federal lawsuit against a rental complex in New York City over screening policies.
Source – nytimes.com
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