This spring the Equal Rights Center (ERC) released a toolkit designed to educate individuals with criminal records about their fair housing rights and provide information about how to effectively advocate for those rights.
In response to a particularly egregious example of discrimination that it uncovered related to the criminal record screening policy and practices of a large housing provider, the ERC has now updated its toolkit with an informational insert.
The provider’s online application asks for an applicant to disclose if any member of the applicant household has ever been convicted of a felony. The only answer options available to applicants are “yes” and “no” via a dropdown memo. Anyone who answers “yes” to the question is prevented from continuing with or submitting the application. This practice is particularly egregious because the ban on any applicants with a felony record is enforced so decisively through the website application process. It likely violates the Fair Housing Act protection against race discrimination. As such, the ERC found it necessary to publish an update to its toolkit on Fair Housing & Criminal Records Screening Policies in order to make consumers aware of the practice.
Even though having a criminal record is not a protected identity under the Fair Housing Act, federal guidance about fair housing and criminal record screening policies notes that criminal records based restrictions for housing opportunities will violate the Fair Housing Act if their burden falls more often on one protected group of people over another without a substantial, legitimate business justification. For example, because of the stark racial disproportionalities that exist across the criminal legal system, a ban on any applicant with a criminal record in an apartment community would likely violate the Act because such a policy would disproportionately limit housing opportunities for Black and Latinx housing applicants without making the community safer.
You can view the updated toolkit online. If you have ever experienced similar discrimination, or would be interested in receiving printed copies of the updated toolkit, please contact the ERC at 202-234-3062 or firstname.lastname@example.org.