Florida Realtors® reports that a single Orlando law firm has filed 48 lawsuits against Florida property managers for refusing to rent to tenants with prior felony convictions. They are alleging that refusing to rent to tenants with a criminal history violated the fair housing act. In 2016, HUD issued guidelines that a blanket policy of refusing to rent to an applicant with a prior arrest, misdemeanor conviction, or a felony conviction more than 7 years old had a disparate impact on African Americans and Hispanics according to Department of Justice statistics. A housing provider must show that its screening policy is necessary to achieve a substantial non-discriminatory interest. The policy cannot be speculative or hypothetical. Evidence must exist that supports the screening policy. The housing provider must prove through reliable evidence that the policy serves the purpose of protecting the safety and property of the other residents. Also that there are no less discriminatory alternatives.
HUD examples: length of time since the applicant’s conviction. A good rental history since the conviction. The circumstances surrounding the criminal conduct.
A housing provider should have a written policy calling for applicants to be evaluated on a case by case basis. Document the research done and results found on each applicant. Make sure the policy is being followed and that it is not resulting in a discriminatory effect. Make sure the policy is being applied on a consistent basis. Review the applicants financial qualifications before checking their criminal history, so that a denial on a financial basis is not tainted by criminal history that should not have been considered. Arrests not resulting in a conviction should not be considered and thus should not by a criteria on the application. Blanket restrictions on certain convictions or all applicants with a criminal record will be discriminatory. Each applicant must be evaluated on a case by case basis.