A Chicago landlord is facing a lawsuit after rejecting a rental applicant with a criminal history.
The tenant was convicted of armed robbery 20 years ago and served six years in prison. The African-American man currently suffers from a disability which limits his mobility.
In the complaint filed in federal district court, the applicant claims that he was forthcoming about his prior conviction when applying for an apartment vacancy and was reassured by leasing staff that it would not be a problem because the background check would only go back seven years. However, the tenant subsequently was rejected, allegedly based on the criminal history.
According to the complaint, the landlord’s tenant screening policy bars applicants with criminal convictions “that involved physical violence to persons or property, or endangered the health and safety of other persons within the last 25 years.”
The policy appears to provide for consideration of extenuating circumstances surrounding criminal convictions. In this case, however, the check-box option “extenuating circumstances will not be considered” was checked, preventing the tenant from offering additional information. He claims that by checking the box, the landlords applied a “blanket” ban on applicants with criminal background.
Previously, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concluded that a blanket ban on job applicants with criminal history is discriminatory because of the disproportionate number of minorities who are incarcerated. In Illinois, for example, African-Americans make up 14.7 percent of the population but constitute 56.7 percent of the state’s prison population and are eight times more likely to be arrested. This “disparate impact” principle has since been adopted by HUD, the nation’s Fair Housing monitor, prompting the agency to institute a series of guidelines for screening tenants using criminal history.
The HUD guidance requires landlords to consider each applicant individually and not apply a blanket ban on all criminal history. The nature of the person’s crime, the length of time since the conviction, the number of convictions, and the tenant’s rental history are all factors that landlords must consider before rejecting tenants for criminal history. The person must pose a current safety threat.
Under these rules, landlords can adopt policies that affect a protected class — like race, religion, national origin and so on — so long as there is a legitimate interest in doing so. HUD has determined that a blanket ban on criminal history in rental housing is not a legitimate interest and is not necessary to protect others or the property.
For more information on screening tenants for criminal history, see our post, Landlords: How to Use Criminal History (Without Breaking the Law).
This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.