It's difficult to believe that "criminals" are now considered a protected group by the United States Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD).

HUD issues Guidance that a Blanket Refusal to Allow Criminals to Rent May Violate Fair Housing Law.

A landlord or property manager that imposes a blanket refusal to rent to any person with any criminal conviction record, no mater when the conviction occurred, what the underlying conduct entailed, or what the convicted person has done since the conviction, may be violating fair housing law.

HUD aims to curtail housing discrimination against criminals. According to HUD, "Nationally, racial & ethnic minorities face disproportionately high rates of arrest & incarceration." Thus, prohibitions against renting to people with criminal history may have a disparate effect on such minority groups.

How to use Criminal Records in the Screening Process

It is still legal to take into consideration a criminal record of a prospective tenant in approving an application.  The use of criminal records as part of the overall tenant screening process serves as a valid business & security functions of protecting tenants and the property from former convicted criminals. 

Basic guidelines:

1. Do not exclude prospective tenants based upon prior arrests. Only a record of conviction ( as opposed to an arrest) will serve as sufficient evidence to prove that an individual engaged in criminal conduct.

2. Consider the length of time that has passed since the criminal conduct occurred.  HUD guidance cites to research indicating that after 6 or 7 years the risk of reoffending by someone with prior criminal history is about the same as a non-offender.

3. Take into account the nature & severity of the individuals conviction. A landlord o property manager must consider resident safety & protection of property. Any policy must accurately distinguish between criminal conduct that indicates a demonstrable risk to resident safety and/or property & criminal conduct that does not.

4. Landlord or property manager must treat everyone equally. If a landlord or property manager refuses to rent to a person for certain convictions, then the landlord or property manager should not be renting to anyone with similar convictions.