New HUD guidelines restrict landlords' ability to deny housing to criminals

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The Obama administration released guidelines Monday intended to make it harder for landlords to discriminate against those with criminal records, saying that such actions can discriminate against minorities.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s guidelines note that African-Americans and Hispanics are arrested and convicted at disproportionate rates, and claims that placing barriers to housing based on a criminal record would disproportionately hurt minorities and therefore may be in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

“While having a criminal record is not a protected characteristic under the Fair Housing Act, criminal history-based restrictions on housing opportunities violate the Act if, without justification, their burden falls more often on renters or other housing market participants of one race or national origin over another,” the guidelines say.

Under the new guidelines, a landlord must consider the severity of a crime, and how long ago the crime was committed before refusing a potential tenant. They will also have to see if the applicant was arrested, and if he or she was convicted. Landlords who refuse tenants will have to prove that the refusal is necessary for the safety of other tenants.

"Policies that exclude persons based on criminal history must be tailored to serve the housing provider’s substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest and take into consideration such factors as the type of the crime and the length of the time since conviction," the guidelines say.

Failure by landlords to follow the guidelines could lead to an investigation and civil fines if they are found to be in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

“The fact that you were arrested shouldn’t keep you from getting a job and it shouldn’t keep you from renting a home,” HUD Secretary Julian Castro said Monday at an annual meeting of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Daily Caller reported. “The ability to find housing is an indispensable second chance in life.”

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton reacted angrily to the new guidelines, saying they are “part of a disturbing pattern.”

“While those who have served their debt to society and completed the rehabilitation process deserve a second chance, it should not be at the expense of law-abiding citizens,” Cotton said.

“Whether releasing violent felons early from prison, preventing employers from asking about an applicant's criminal record, or now blocking landlords from deciding whether to rent to someone who may pose a threat to their property and the surrounding community, these policies are part of a disturbing pattern”