Fair Housing Act Prevents Discrimination Based On Criminal Records

The Fair Housing Act may prevent discrimination based on criminal records. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is currently exploring ways to help people with criminal records qualify for housing. According to reports, HUD is informing landlords that if they refuse to accept tenants based on their past criminal records, they will be in violation of the Fair Housing Act and it could lead to penalties or lawsuits for discrimination.

As reported by NPR, the Fair Housing Act does not only pertain to people with criminal records, it is an act that provides protection for those who are denied housing based on their color, sex, religion, country of origin, and race.

One in every four Americans has a criminal record. But, according to the Justice Department, black men are jailed up to six times more than white men. Hispanic men are incarcerated twice as often as white men.

Some of these criminal records were based on arrests that never led to convictions. Others happened decades ago, but are still preventing the former convicts from becoming productive members of the community.

Melvin Lofton was convicted of burglary and theft when he was in his 20s. Although he is in now in his 50s, he is forced to live with his mother because he is unable to get a place of his own. Lofton discusses how his criminal record is still negatively impacting his life.

“I was at work and the guy called me and told me to come pick up my keys. So I was happy. I got a place to stay… 45-50 minutes later he calls and says ‘Is there something you’re not telling me’ and I say ‘No, what is there?’ And he says, ‘You didn’t tell me you had a background.'”

According to HUD, this level of discrimination must stop because it is causing a specific issue among minority groups in America.

“When landlords refuse to rent to anyone who has an arrest record, they effectively bar the door to millions of folks of color for no good reason,” the Housing Secretary said.

Although the Fair Housing Act prevents discrimination based solely on a prior criminal record, landlords still have a right to reject tenants with criminal records if they can prove the tenant poses a legitimate risk or security breach.

HUD also warns against favoritism, saying if landlords refuse to rent to Hispanic and black applicants because of their criminal background, yet accept a white tenant with a criminal background, they could be found guilty of contravening the Fair House Act.


“Intentional discrimination may be proven based on evidence that, when responding to inquiries from prospective applicants, a property manager told an African-American individual that her criminal record would disqualify her from renting an apartment, but did not similarly discourage a White individual with a comparable criminal record from applying.”

New York Times reports HUD believes it is wrong to bar people from living in comfort and convenience simply because they have an arrest record. Landlords should consider the individual crime when it happened, and the conclusion of the case. HUD officials said landlords need to understand there is a line between keeping their community safe and depriving someone of a place to call home.

HUD secretary Julian Castro summarized the Fair Housing Act perfectly explaining that “many housing providers use the fact of a conviction, any conviction, regardless of what it was for or how long ago it happened, to indefinitely bar folks from housing opportunities. Many people who are coming back to neighborhoods are only looking for a fair chance to be productive members, but blanket policies like this unfairly deny them that chance.”

Castro said everyone makes mistakes, and many former criminals simply need a “fair chance to be productive members” of their community. Not only are these landlords violating the Fair Housing Act, their policies unfairly deny people their right to move forward from their former life of crime.

[Image via Veleknez/Shutterstock]