The Department of Housing and Urban Development recently came up with a new set of guidelines that make it tougher for landlords and home sellers to discriminate against people with prior criminal convictions. While the reasons behind the changes are plausible, it puts the landlord on a corner. How much far can landlords go without placing themselves and their investment at risk?
Previously landlords could just arbitrarily set a line – if one is a felony then it is clear denial. Unfortunately because statistics have shown that minorities are disproportionately incarcerated, it has become a source of discrimination when it comes to housing.
The new guidelines do not mean that the landlord cannot take criminal history into consideration when adjudicating a rental application, however the landlord has to consider the severity and length of incarceration before making a decision. It also places a burden of proof upon the landlord; as they should be able to “prove through reliable evidence” that the prior conviction makes the person a risk to the landlord’s property and other renters.
This is a higher standard and comes at the backdrop of last year’s Supreme Court Ruling on the Fair Housing Act. The challenge that the landlord is going to be faced with is knowing whether an offence is reasonable enough to deny somebody a fresh start. One could argue that while fraud is not a violent offense allowing a person with repeat fraud convictions to rent could put other tenants at risk.
While most people agree that it is morally wrong to perpetually punish ex-offenders by denying them a chance to start a fresh, it is also a thin line that the landlord is being made to straddle.