What You Can Do
Finding a home that meets your needs if you or a household member has a criminal record can be challenging. Remember that you have rights and that there are organizations available to assist you! Here are some steps that you can take if you are looking for a home and it feels like a criminal record you’ve moved on from is getting in your way:
Carefully document your interactions with landlords and agents.
This could help uncover discriminatory conduct. Take detailed notes during your housing search, including:
- Property name, address, and phone number
- Name and title of the agent(s) you spoke with
- Date and time of the call/visit
- Was there a criminal background check required –and, if so, what was the fee for it?
- Were there any apartments available within your move in date? If not, what was the earliest availability date?
- How much was the rent and security deposit? What utilities were included?
- Do you know the rent and terms of other tenants?
Save copies of the listings, rental applications, correspondence such as business cards and any emails and letters that you compile during your housing search.
Even after you have moved into your unit, take detailed notes of your conversations with your landlord, including the date the conversations took place. Save copies of all correspondence, documents, and receipts.
If a housing provider denies your application, ask them why they did so.
If they tell you that it’s because of something that came up in a criminal background check, ask them for the name, address, and phone number of the consumer reporting company that supplied the report, then obtain a copy of it (you’re legally entitled to a free copy). Review it closely and ensure that the information included in it is accurate. If the information is not accurate, dispute it with the reporting company. It is your right to do so under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Research indicates that criminal background reports regularly mismatch people with similar names or birth dates; neglect crucial information about a case; include sealed or expunged information; provide misleading information; and/or misclassify offenses. If a reporting company will not investigate and/or change inaccurate information on the report, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. If you identify inaccurate information in the report and are still interested in living in the home you applied for, you can always try explaining the inaccuracies to the housing provider and asking them to reconsider their decision.
If a housing provider tells you that they do not accept any applicants with an arrest and/or conviction record, ask for their policy in writing.
Take notes and document your interactions to the greatest extent possible. If you are still interested in renting a home from them, provide them with a copy of the April 2016 HUD guidance on criminal records screening policies and fair housing included at the bottom of this webpage and linked in this sentence. Explain that it may be illegal for them to have such a broad policy, explain why you will make a great tenant, and ask them to reconsider your application. Consider reporting the outcomes of your experience to HOME
If the provider denies your request for reconsideration or you are not interested in living at the property any longer but are interested in filing a fair housing complaint, contact HOME. Even if you are not interested in filing a complaint, consider reporting your experiences.
If you have a criminal record related to a disability and your record is leading to a denial of housing, you may be able to request a reasonable accommodation to a housing provider’s criminal records screening policy. If you need assistance with making a reasonable accommodation request or if you feel that a request has been illegally denied, contact HOME. If you are a survivor of domestic violence with a criminal record that is related to the violence you experienced, there may be some legal protections you can access based on the kind of housing you are applying to live in and/or where you live. Keep a detailed record of your interactions with the housing provider and contact HOME or a domestic violence service provider for more advice and assistance.
While HOME cannot help with every case, we do want to know about potentially discriminatory policies.
Call us 804-354-0641 if you are denied because of your criminal history after following the above steps.
HUD Guidance on Criminal History Screening
Printable Flyer about Renting with a Criminal History
**Web page content provided by the Equal Rights Center’s Criminal Records Toolkit for Consumers.**