BrokerageMLS & Associations

Why denying housing to former criminals could be discrimination

HUD: 'Arbitrary and overbroad' criminal history-related barriers to housing unlikely to survive legal scrutiny
  • Because of widespread racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system, denying people housing based on their criminal record is likely to have a disproportionate impact on minority home seekers, according to HUD.
  • Therefore, real estate professionals that deny housing to people with any kind of criminal record without considering the nature and severity of the offense or how much time has passed risk running afoul of the Fair Housing Act.
  • HUD's guidance indicates real estate pros should exclude people only based on criminal convictions that can be shown to be a risk to resident safety or to property.

In the age of Black Lives Matter, backlash against "three strikes" laws and a movement to "ban the box" asking about criminal conviction history on job applications, there is change afoot in the interpretation of a law that most real estate agents and brokers are familiar with: the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act, part of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1968, prohibits housing providers such as landlords and real estate companies from discriminating against anyone on the basis of: Race Color Religion Sex Disability Familial status National origin Under the Act it is also unlawful to deny any person access to or membership or participation in any multiple listing service (MLS) or real estate brokers' organization. Not only that, but MLSs and brokers' organizations can't discriminate in terms or conditions of access, membership or participation against an applicant or member because he or she is in one or more of the above "protected classes." Pe...