[Ed. – We carried a Daily Caller News Foundation piece on this by Blake Neff a couple of weeks ago. Contributor Kenric Ward points out that in many localities, following the new HUD “guidance” would put landlords at odds with city and county ordinances.]
The Obama administration is preparing to crack down on landlords who refuse housing to applicants with criminal records.
New “guidance” from the Department of Housing and Urban Development states that owners risk fair-housing violations by rejecting applicants based on arrest records or using blanket prohibitions against renting to anyone convicted of a felony. HUD says minorities are arrested or jailed in “disproportionate numbers.”
The HUD rule is not yet final, but a Texas policy center calls the idea “folly.”
“This is a misguided social-justice crusade,” said Derek Cohen, deputy director of the Right on Crime Center at the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin. “[HUD] cares more about the stigma of a past criminal offense than about public safety.”
“Being a felon is not a protected class. Committing a crime is a decision someone makes,” Cohen told Watchdog.org. “This is not a civil rights issue – it’s actually disrespectful of real civil rights causes.”
HUD, led by former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, says that even when property owners limit denials to applicants with certain types of convictions, they must show “substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest.”
“Black and brown Americans are far more likely to be stopped, searched and arrested than whites. So when landlords summarily refuse to rent to anyone who has an arrest record, they may disproportionately bar the door to millions of folks of color for no good reason at all. That’s wrong. It has to end,” Castro said.
Greg Brown, senior vice president for government affairs at the National Apartment Association, called HUD’s action “especially complex in light of state and local laws [that] create strong disincentives for owners to rent to those with criminal histories.”
“While the guidance establishes general parameters, it is not specific about which policies will pass muster and which will not. This leaves owners and operators in the position of trying to thread a very fine needle to stay on the right side of fair housing law,” Brown said.
Several U.S. cities have “Crime-Free Housing” and “Problem Property” ordinances that fine landlords for repeated police and fire calls to their properties.
The progressive bastion of Evanston, Illinois, is considering an ordinance requiring landlords to run criminal background checks on prospective tenants.
To qualify for a “Good Landlord” designation in Utah, rental properties are barred from accepting tenants with criminal backgrounds.
Cohen said HUD’s rulemaking illustrates the “folly of a planned economy.”
“In a free market, if a business is going to make an implicit or explicit policy on discrimination, dollars won’t go to that business,” he said in an interview with Watchdog. “People do deserve a second chance, but government shouldn’t be the one determining it. Government should stay out of the way.”
Paula Cino, a vice president of the National Multifamily Housing Council, told the Wall Street Journal: “We all want to feel safe in our homes. It is critical to balance the housing needs for everybody with providing a safe and secure community.”
The Texas Legislature last year passed HB 1510, which would indemnify landlords and their agents from liability for leasing to tenants convicted of, or arrested in, criminal offenses.
Read more by Kenric Ward at Watchdog.com.