The governing law is the federal Fair Housing Act, and any state or local additions. According to the act, you cannot refuse to rent to any person based on a protected class, including: race, religion, age, gender, marital status, national origin, handicap and a few other characteristics. See the Fair Housing Page .
Even though the federal housing law does not specifically mention "criminal history," you will want to ensure that there is no question that your screening procedures are legal if you choose to deny tenancy based on the applicant's past criminal record. The most important and relevant section of the Fair Housing Act is section 3604(f)(9) .
It is this section of the Act that landlords most often use to deny tenancy based on a person's criminal record.
Before you deny housing due to an applicant's criminal record, be sure to take some important safeguards. They may not only save you from violating Fair Housing Laws but perhaps a very expensive defense to a lawsuit for discrimination. Due diligence on this issue can be as easy as 123.
There are several Dos , including :
Always make an "independent and objective" evaluation of the actual threat that the tenancy of the applicant would pose on the other tenants and their property, and base the decision to accept or deny tenancy on that investigation .
There are several Don'ts , including :
Do not automatically deny tenancy just because you discover that the applicant may have a criminal record.
The most important thing you can do to protect yourself when making these decisions is to establish a set of criteria you use for every tenant applicant and always make the required investigation.
The above topic is discussed in more depth
on our members' Criminal History page.