Federal Law Bars Housing Discrimination Against People With Criminal Records

06.16.16

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has put landlords and other housing providers on notice that a policy of denying housing to anyone with a prior arrest or any kind of criminal conviction would violate the Fair Housing Act.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits racial discrimination in the sale, rental, or financing of homes. A policy refusing to rent or sell homes to people who have criminal records is illegal discrimination, HUD announced last week, because African Americans and Hispanics are disproportionately arrested, convicted, and incarcerated.

“When landlords summarily refuse to rent to anyone who has an arrest record, they may effectively and disproportionately bar the door to millions of folks of color for no good reason at all,” HUD Secretary Juli├ín Castro said during the National Low Income Housing Coalition Policy Forum in Washington, D.C., last week.

Landlords will have to prove that they had a good reason to exclude an applicant based on criminal history, and HUD has made clear that “[b]ald assertions based on generalizations or stereotypes that any individual with an arrest or conviction record poses a greater risk than any individual without such a record are not sufficient to satisfy this burden.”

“No American should ever be discriminated against because of their race or ethnicity, even if that discrimination results from a policy that appears neutral on its face,” Mr. Castro said. For formerly incarcerated people and their families, access to safe, secure, and affordable housing is critical, but they face significant barriers to finding a home because of their criminal history. Even those who were arrested but not convicted often are barred from housing based on the past arrest.

Federal law still allows landlords to deny housing to anyone convicted of drug manufacturing or distribution, even though the War on Drugs resulted in grossly disproportionate arrest, conviction, and sentencing rates of African Americans for drug offenses.