Stories this week by NPR and the Wall Street Journal highlight two individuals, including Benigno Herrera of Austin, who have struggled to find rental housing because of criminal convictions that occurred decades ago. According to the National Employment Law Project, approximately 65 million Americans have criminal records. Individuals with criminal records are not a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, meaning landlords may refuse to rent to someone because of their criminal past.
However, on April 4, 2016, HUD's Office of General Counsel issued guidance that outlines ways the denial of housing based on a criminal record could constitute discrimination and violate the Fair Housing Act.
New HUD Guidance on Criminal Records and Housing
The first potential fair housing violation occurs when a landlord refuses housing to all applicants with criminal records. According to HUD, this type of policy - while not discriminatory on its face – can have a discriminatory effect. That is because on a national level, racial and ethnic minorities face disproportionately high rates of arrest and incarceration.
The second potential violation occurs when there is intentional discrimination. An example is when a landlord rents to a white applicant with a criminal record for a certain type of conviction but refuses to rent to a minority applicant with a similar conviction.
In its guidance, HUD encourages landlords to avoid these potential violations by ensuring their criminal history policies reflect evaluating applicants on a nondiscriminatory case-by-case basis, taking into account the nature and severity of the criminal activity and the length of time that has passed since the conviction occurred.
April is Fair Housing Month
Looking at barriers to housing - including criminal conviction - is a timely topic, since April is Fair Housing Month, commemorating the passage of the Fair Housing Act on April 11, 1968. To learn more about the Fair Housing Act and the history of fair housing in America click here.
To learn more about Fair Housing and what to do if you think your rights have been violated, check out the following resources:
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development- Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
Texas Workforce Commission- Civil Rights Division
On the House blog posts are meant to provide general information on various housing-related issues, research and programs. We are not liable for any errors or inaccuracies in the information provided by blog sources. Furthermore, this blog is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed professional attorney.