Most landlords are allowed to conduct criminal background checks as part of the applicant screening process. It’s important to closely follow tenant screening laws, though, so you’re not accused of discrimination.
Local Bans on Prospective Tenant Background Checks
Some cities have prohibited landlords from running background checks, including Berkley, Richmond, Oakland, Portland, Minneapolis, and Seattle. The New York City Council is also considering a similar ban. The bans are part of “fair chance” or “clean slate” initiatives, which allow people who have served time in prison to start over and find fair housing.
Always check your local laws before starting a criminal background check on a potential tenant.
Discrimination vs. Safety
Many landlords like to run background checks because they consider it a safety issue. The cities that have banned them disagree. They see background checks as a way to discriminate against people with criminal records.
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 protects seven classes from discrimination when it comes to applying for housing:
- National origin
- Familial status
Criminal history is not a protected class. Landlords can, therefore, deny a rental application to someone based on their criminal record in accordance with the FHA (and if their local laws allow it).
Follow Tenant Screening Laws
While you might be within your rights to conduct criminal background checks on potential tenants, you must closely adhere to screening laws. If you’re accused of discrimination, it could cost you thousands of dollars in fines and legal fees.
If you choose to reject a prospective tenant based on their criminal history, you have to prove that you based your decision on preserving the safety of your property. If it appears you’re using criminal history as a cover-up to deny someone based on one of the seven protected classes, you could be in big trouble.
At ScreenRenters, we ensure your tenant screening process is compliant with federal, state, and local laws. We give you a comprehensive overview of applicants so you can make a fair, well-informed decision. Create your free landlord account today to get started with Screen Renters.