Landlords should be no stranger to the laws and guidelines of the federal Fair Housing Act. These laws ensure that tenants in protected classes do not face discrimination throughout the housing industry. However, Fair Housing Laws are not the only regulations that owners must be aware of. While creating standard qualification and screening processes, rental owners must comply with all federal, state, and local laws. In Washington DC, this includes the Fair Criminal Screening for Housing Act. If you are not sure what this means for you and your rental practices, continue reading below.
What is the Fair Criminal Screening for Housing Act?
The Fair Criminal Screening for Housing Act restricts when and how rental owners can ask about an applicant’s criminal history. Thus, affecting how landlords create screening criteria, implement rental applications, and complete the tenant selection process. Not to mention, landlords face significant financial penalties if they fail to comply or violate any terms.
Criminal background checks have long been a vital part of a standard rental screening process. However, there was little oversight beyond that governing what landlords could and could not use to deny an application. Advocates and lawmakers saw this as a deep-rooted inequity. Those with a criminal past attempting to reintegrate and find secure safe housing opportunities faced more significant discrimination – often for only minor crimes or charges not resulting in a conviction.
Guidelines Under the Fair Criminal Screening for Housing Act
Thus, this legislation restricts a landlord’s screening processes by imposing the following guidelines –
- Prior to accepting an application fee, housing providers must disclose, in writing, their screening requirements. For example, owners must relay criteria for income, employment, creditworthiness, criminal background, and rental history that will be used to approve or deny the applicant. Furthermore, include a statement that applicants may provide evidence demonstrating inaccuracies within the criminal records, evidence of rehabilitation, or other mitigating factors.
- Before rental owners make a conditional offer of housing, they may not inquire about or require an applicant to disclose a pending criminal accusation or previous criminal conviction.
- The law restricts a rental owner’s probe into the applicant’s pending criminal accusation or prior conviction history until after a conditional offer of housing is made.
- Housing providers cannot inquire about or consider any previous arrests that did not result in a conviction.
- Landlords may only consider pending accusations or convictions within the last seven years.
- Housing providers may not inquire into or require applicants under 18 to disclose any pending criminal accusations or convictions.
For What Crimes Can Landlords Deny a Rental Applicant
Once owners make a conditional offer and have consent from the applicant, they can run a criminal background check. Once the results are in, housing providers can only consider pending accusations and convictions within the last seven years. Some of the crimes that can be viewed as a reason for denial by landlords include, but are not limited to, the following –
- Malicious Activity – Arson, burning one’s own property with intent to defraud or injure another, malicious burning, destruction, or injury of another’s property, burglary, kidnapping, robbery, acts of terrorism, manufacture or use of a weapon of mass destruction.
- Violent Crimes – Assault with intent to kill, rob, or poison, assault with intent to commit mayhem or with a dangerous weapon, aggravated assault, mayhem or maliciously disfiguring, murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, manslaughter, murder of law enforcement officer, solicitation of murder or other crime of violence
- Fraud – Making, drawing, or uttering check, draft, or order with intent to defraud, forgery, check fraud, credit card fraud, insurance fraud.
- Sexual Crimes – Trafficking in labor or commercial sex acts, sex trafficking of children, abducting, enticing, or harboring a child for prostitution; harboring such child, first-degree sexual abuse, second-degree sexual abuse, first-degree child sexual abuse, second-degree child sexual abuse, first-degree sexual abuse of a minor, second degree sexual abuse of a minor
- Drug Activity – Prohibited acts A, B, C. D under section 401, 402, 403, 411 of the District of Columbia Uniform Controlled Substances Act of 1981, distribution to minors, enlistment of minors to distribute
Conditions for Withdrawing a Conditional Offer of Housing
Rental owners may withdraw a conditional offer of housing based on criminal history only when reasonable to do so. Therefore, to help landlords determine when a denial is necessary, consider the following guidelines while making your decision –
- The nature and severity of the accusation or conviction
- Age of the applicant when the crime was committed
- How long it has been since the offense was committed
- Whether or not the offense occurred on or in a rented property
- Any mitigating information offered from the applicant regarding their good conduct or rehabilitation since the offense
- If the crime were to reoccur, would it cause a danger to the landlord, property, or surrounding community
What is the Penalty for Violating the Fair Criminal Screening for Housing Act?
As with any law or rental restriction, landlords must ensure full compliance to avoid financial penalties or legal actions. Under the Fair Criminal Screening for Housing Act, landlords can face some significant financial penalties, including –
- 1 to 10 Rental Units – Up to $1000 for a housing provider
- 11 to 25 Rental Units – Up to $2500 for a housing provider
- 21 or More Rental Units – Up to $5000 for a housing provider
That said, the penalties above could double depending on the circumstances of the complaint. In addition, applicants could receive up to half of the penalty themselves.
Are There Any Exceptions to the Law?
Although the Fair Criminal Screening for Housing Act applies to most landlords, there are a few exceptions. These exceptions include –
- If the landlord lives in their own building of 3 or fewer units
- When federal or local law requires housing providers to consider criminal history or allows for a denial of an applicant due to certain criminal offenses
Looking for Help with Your DC Rental Property Portfolio?
Keeping up with changing rental laws is a necessary but often overwhelming task for independent landlords. Not to mention, the risk of penalties resulting from not understanding the law can be severe. When it comes to ensuring legal compliance, offering top-notch customer service, and protecting your investment interests – hiring a qualified property manager is the way to go.
The professional team of property managers at Bay Property Management Group helps owners follow the Fair Criminal Screening for Housing Act and so much more. Our dedicated staff works with the latest technology to facilitate all day-to-day operations of any rental business. So, whether you need help with marketing, basic accounting, maintenance coordination, leasing services, or general customer service, give us a call today.