Apartment Living BlogFair Housing › Fair Housing Expert: Handling Leasing Applications from Sex Offenders

Kathi Williams, co-founder and Director of The Fair Housing Institute, Inc.

 

Dear Fair Housing Expert,

 

As an owner of 13 condos and 80 apartments what are we supposed to do when a sexual offender applies? I have heard that the Supreme Court has said you cannot deny them on this basis as they would have nowhere to live otherwise because everyone would deny them.

 

The problem is condo associations are writing bylaw amendments that make the owners who rent or sell to them liable for the sex offenders, which does not seem fair to me. How can they justify passing these laws? Single family owners do not seem to have to put up with this.

 

Terry


Dear Terry,

 

All housing providers, including those who sell or rent single family homes, should be knowledgeable of the Fair Housing Act’s prohibitions against illegal discrimination. Sometimes, however, those requirements are exaggerated, and your question may describe one of those situations.

 

The Supreme Court issued an important Fair Housing decision in June 2015 when it decided disparate impact was a legitimate method of proving a Fair Housing Act violation. The case provides some lessons on how courts should review a housing provider’s criminal history policy.

 

This decision does not prohibit housing providers from conducting criminal history screening or adopting policies that exclude applicants who are listed on a state’s sex offender registry. Instead, it stated that if a housing provider’s neutral policy has a statistically more negative impact on one protected category over others, the housing provider must provide evidence that the policy is necessary to achieve a substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest.

 

Handling Applicants from Sex Offenders

Housing providers must be able to explain how its policy accomplishes the important nondiscriminatory business reason of protecting the safety of its residents and property. Housing providers who adopt overly broad policies that exclude anyone who has a record of arrests or convictions of any type that occurred at any time in the applicant’s history will likely have a difficult time justifying such policies.  

 

Regarding condo association bylaw amendments, the legality of such rules would be determined by state law. It may be difficult for a condo association to enforce such a rule against an owner who is able to justify his/her screening practices as reasonable.

 

Also of note is that California law makes it illegal for a landlord to use information obtained from the California sex offender registry in housing decisions. Several cities are considering laws making ex-offenders a protected category, which will make it illegal in those jurisdictions to reject applicants due to criminal history.  

 

All housing providers should be well versed in the applicable requirements of Federal, state and local laws that apply to policies pertaining to screening applicants on the basis of criminal history. I suggest consulting with an attorney to ensure you are considering these requirements when adopting screening policies and practices.

 

If you’ve had an experience related to this post, please share below.

 


Kathelene “Kathi” Williams is a co-founder and Director of The Fair Housing Institute, Inc. a full-service training and consulting firm and is a partner in the law firm of Williams & Edelstein, P.C. of Norcross, GA. Representing housing industry clients from throughout the country, Kathi provides fair housing training to associations, companies, and government entities and contributes to numerous housing industry publications. Kathi graduated from Indiana University Law School and participated in the Law Review and Board of Barristers.

Kathi Williams

About

Kathelene "Kathi" Williams is a co-founder and Director of The Fair Housing Institute, Inc. a full-service training and consulting firm and is a partner in the law firm of Williams & Edelstein, P.C. of Norcross, GA. Representing housing industry clients from throughout the country, Kathi provides fair housing training to associations, companies, and government entities and contributes to numerous housing industry publications. Kathi graduated from Indiana University Law School and participated in the Law Review and Board of Barristers.

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