Can Landlord Do Criminal Background Check

Landlords often run criminal background checks on potential tenants to assess their risk as renters. They may use a third-party service or conduct the check themselves. Criminal background checks typically include a search of local, state, and federal criminal records, as well as sex offender registries. Landlords may also consider the severity of the crimes, the age of the convictions, and any evidence of rehabilitation. Some states and cities have laws that restrict landlords from denying housing to applicants with criminal records. These laws vary widely, so it is important for landlords to be familiar with the laws in their jurisdiction before making a decision.

Legal Framework for Landlord’s Criminal Background Check

The legal landscape surrounding landlord’s criminal background checks varies across jurisdictions, creating a complex tapestry of laws and regulations. To ensure compliance and avoid legal pitfalls, landlords must navigate these legal frameworks carefully.

Information Subject to Disclosure

The scope of information accessible for criminal background checks may differ among jurisdictions. Some common categories of disclosable information include:

  • Convictions: Offenses that resulted in a guilty verdict or a plea deal leading to a conviction.
  • Pending Charges: Ongoing criminal proceedings, including arrests and charges that have yet to be resolved.
  • Deferred Adjudication: Cases where the court postpones sentencing or judgment on the condition of meeting specific requirements.
  • Pretrial Intervention Programs: Alternative sentencing options allowing defendants to participate in rehabilitation programs as a condition of avoiding criminal prosecution.

Permissible Purposes for Checks

Criminal background checks conducted by landlords must serve a specific, legitimate purpose. Legally acceptable purposes vary by jurisdiction. Some common examples include:

  • Tenant Screening: Assessing the suitability of potential tenants by evaluating criminal history in relation to the safety and well-being of the rental property and its occupants.
  • Risk Assessment: Evaluating potential risks associated with renting to specific individuals based on criminal history.
  • Compliance with Federal or State Laws: Conducting background checks to comply with specific legal requirements, such as those governing housing for certain vulnerable populations.

Considerations for Fair Housing Compliance

Landlords must conduct criminal background checks in a manner that complies with fair housing laws and regulations. Key considerations include:

  • Non-Discrimination: Checks should not be used to discriminate against protected classes, such as individuals based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.
  • Individualized Assessments: Evaluations should consider each applicant’s criminal history in an individualized manner, taking into account the nature, severity, and relevance of the offense.
  • Consistency: Checks must be applied consistently to all applicants without disparate treatment based on protected characteristics.
State-Specific Laws:
StateRelevant Law or Regulation
CaliforniaFair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
New YorkHuman Rights Law (NYHRL)
TexasTexas Property Code, Chapter 92

Tenant’s Rights and Fair Housing Laws

Landlords often conduct criminal background checks on potential tenants to assess their risks and protect their properties. However, these checks can be controversial, as they may lead to discrimination against certain groups of people.

Federal, state, and local laws regulate how landlords can conduct criminal background checks. These laws aim to balance the landlord’s right to screen tenants with the tenant’s right to fair housing.

Tenant’s Rights

  • Right to Privacy: Tenants have a right to privacy regarding their personal information, including their criminal history. Landlords cannot access this information without the tenant’s consent.
  • Right to Fair Housing: Tenants cannot be discriminated against based on their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, or disability. This includes discrimination based on criminal history.
  • Right to Challenge Adverse Action: If a landlord denies a rental application based on a criminal background check, the tenant has the right to challenge that decision. The tenant can file a complaint with the appropriate government agency or take legal action.

Fair Housing Laws

  • Federal Fair Housing Act: This law prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, or disability. It also prohibits discrimination based on criminal history, except in specific circumstances.
  • State and Local Fair Housing Laws: Many states and cities have their own fair housing laws that provide additional protections for tenants. These laws may restrict how landlords can use criminal background checks to screen tenants.
JurisdictionRestrictions on Criminal Background Checks
CaliforniaLandlords cannot deny a rental application based solely on a criminal conviction. They must consider other factors, such as the nature of the crime, the time since the conviction, and the tenant’s rehabilitation efforts.
New York CityLandlords cannot ask about an applicant’s criminal history on a rental application. They can only conduct a criminal background check after the applicant has been conditionally approved for the rental unit.
Seattle, WashingtonLandlords cannot deny a rental application based on a criminal conviction that is more than seven years old.

Landlords should be aware of the tenant’s rights and fair housing laws before conducting criminal background checks. Failure to comply with these laws can result in legal consequences, including fines, lawsuits, and damage to the landlord’s reputation.

Practical Considerations for Implementing Criminal Background Checks

Implementing criminal background checks for tenants involves several practical considerations that landlords must address to ensure fair and compliant practices. Here are key aspects to consider:

  • Legal Requirements: Comply with Local, State, and Federal Laws: Before conducting criminal background checks, landlords should familiarize themselves with the specific laws and regulations applicable in their jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions have laws that restrict or prohibit the use of criminal background information in tenant screening, such as the Fair Housing Act and local fair housing ordinances.
  • Tenant Consent: Obtain Written Consent: Landlords must obtain written consent from prospective tenants before conducting a criminal background check. This consent should be clear and specific, explaining the purpose of the check and the information that will be sought. Landlords should also inform tenants about their rights under applicable laws and regulations.
  • Choosing a Background Check Provider: Conduct Due Diligence: When selecting a background check provider, landlords should conduct thorough due diligence to ensure the company is reputable, reliable, and uses accurate search methods. Consider factors such as compliance with Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) regulations, data security measures, and turnaround time for background reports.
  • Establishing Criteria: Develop Objective Criteria: Landlords should establish objective and non-discriminatory criteria for evaluating criminal background information. These criteria should be relevant to the rental property and position and should not have a disproportionate impact on protected classes under fair housing laws.
  • Avoiding Discrimination: Comply with Fair Housing Laws and Avoid Bias: Landlords must conduct criminal background checks in a manner that complies with fair housing laws and avoids discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, or disability. Decisions to deny tenancy based on criminal background information must be made on a case-by-case basis, considering the specific facts and circumstances.
  • Adverse Action Notices: Provide Adverse Action Notices: If a landlord decides to deny tenancy based on criminal background information, they must provide a written adverse action notice to the applicant. This notice must comply with FCRA requirements and include a copy of the consumer report and a summary of the applicant’s rights.
  • Security and Data Privacy: Protect Personal Information: Landlords are responsible for protecting the privacy and security of personal information collected during criminal background checks. They should implement appropriate measures to safeguard this information from unauthorized access or disclosure.

Alternative Screening Methods for Landlords

In addition to criminal background checks, landlords can use a variety of other screening methods to assess the suitability of potential tenants. These methods are designed to help landlords make informed decisions about who to rent to, while also protecting the rights of tenants.

  • Credit Checks: A credit check can provide landlords with information about a potential tenant’s financial history, including their ability to pay rent on time and in full.
  • Income Verification: Landlords may also request income verification from potential tenants, such as pay stubs or bank statements. This information can help landlords determine whether a tenant can afford the rent.
  • Rental History: Landlords can ask for a rental history from potential tenants, which can provide information about their previous rental experiences, including any evictions or late payments.
  • References: Landlords can also request references from potential tenants, such as previous landlords, employers, or personal references. These references can provide information about the tenant’s character and reliability.
Screening MethodProsCons
Criminal Background CheckCan help landlords identify potential tenants with a history of criminal activity.May be discriminatory if used to exclude certain groups of people, such as minorities or people with disabilities.
Credit CheckCan provide landlords with information about a potential tenant’s financial history.May be discriminatory if used to exclude people with low credit scores or who have declared bankruptcy.
Income VerificationCan help landlords determine whether a tenant can afford the rent.May be difficult to obtain if the potential tenant is self-employed or has irregular income.
Rental HistoryCan provide landlords with information about a potential tenant’s previous rental experiences.May be difficult to obtain if the potential tenant has a short rental history or if they have rented from private landlords.
ReferencesCan provide landlords with information about a potential tenant’s character and reliability.May be biased or unreliable if the references are friends or family members of the potential tenant.

It’s important to note that landlords are not allowed to discriminate against tenants based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, or disability. This means that landlords cannot use screening methods that have a disparate impact on these protected classes.

Thanks for sticking with me through all that legal jargon. I know it can be tough to wade through, but hopefully I’ve made it a little easier to understand. If you’re still curious about landlord rights and responsibilities, feel free to visit our website again later. I’m always adding new articles and updates, so you’re sure to find something interesting. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for any shady landlords trying to pull a fast one on you. And remember, knowledge is power – the more you know about your rights, the better equipped you’ll be to protect yourself.