There’s some information we want to bring to you concerning what you may and may not consider in criminal backgrounds when you’re screening tenants. On April 4, 2016, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a guidance letter from its Office of General Counsel regarding how criminal history should be treated when you’re screening tenant applicants. This is now considered part of fair housing, so you need to pay attention to these guidelines. HUD will use them if you are ever accused of discrimination and they investigate whether those allegations are true.
Screen on Individual Merits
What HUD has come up with is the rule that each application should be reviewed based on the individual merits of the applicant, and not on specific criminal history. To summarize, you should use caution when you’re screening, but some criminal history should be ignored.
What to Ignore When Screening
You do not want to deny an application based on criminal proceedings concluded as adjudication withheld, dismissals, pretrial diversions, non-prosecuted cases, and full acquittals. You cannot hold any of these things against an applicant when you are determining whether or not to approve an application. You cannot deny an applicant based on an arrest of any kind. People are innocent until proven guilty, and everyone has a right to their day in court. So if a tenant has been arrested in the past, you cannot take it as a fact of guilt. You must wait for the verdict.
Other things you cannot consider are any kind of misdemeanor or the possession or use of illegal drugs or controlled substances and the possession of any drug paraphernalia. You may have a problem with that one as a landlord, but you aren’t supposed to hold that against your tenants.
What to Consider When Screening
Here are some issues or things you can use to deny a tenant the property. You can make judgments based on these things, and not be accused of discriminating against an applicant:
- Felonies or convictions within last seven years.
- Illegal manufacturing or distributing of controlled substance.
- Crimes resulting in harm or intentional damage to or destruction of property. This includes arson and vandalism.
- Sexual related offenses of any type such as rape and child pornography.
This is coming from a federal agency, so if you have a property in north Florida, we’ll need to adhere to it. If you have any questions or would like some more information, check out HUD’s website, or contact us at Cool Realty. We’d be happy to help you with tenant screening and property management.