Really __ “Racist for landlords not to rent to felons”

10 Replies

WA Attorney General: Racist for landlords not to rent to felons

A recent court filing indicates that the Washington State Attorney General’s Office believes that denying a prospective tenant with a felony conviction is racially discriminatory.

A member of the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Unit served a Consent Decree on Dobler Management Company, a property management firm in Tacoma, after conducting a simulated test on whether the landlord was illegally discriminating against potential tenants.

According to the briefing sent to KTTH’s Todd Herman, in May, the state asked a tester to follow up on a rental property advertisement on Craigslist, which said the apartment complex would automatically deny renters with a felony record. The state’s tester confirmed that the unit was still available and asked if he could apply for the unit despite having a felony conviction. The leasing consultant responded via email that a “felony would be an automatic denial.”

“In denying the tester, the leasing consultant did not consider when the conviction occurred, what the underlying conduct entailed or what the tester had done since the conviction,” the state wrote in a consent decree filed in Pierce County Superior Court.

The state explains that there is a discriminatory link between criminal history and restriction of housing:

“In Washington, racial disparities exist in the criminal justice system. African Americans are arrested, convicted, and incarcerated at higher rates than non-African Americans. As a result, criminal history restrictions on housing justified by a legitimate nondiscriminatory interest and is tailored … a housing provider’s blanket policy prohibiting tenants based on criminal history discriminates based on race or color.”

Here is the rest of the story http://mynorthwest.com/425356/

Yes...DOJ has "determined" that denying those with a felony has a disparate impact on minorities. Landlords cannot arbitrarily deny people with felonies any more. HUD has made rulings to that effect. IMO, the proper way to screen now would be to look at the applicant's history. Are they current felonies or over 7 years old? Also what was the nature of the felony? If they killed their previous landlord I would automatically deny even if it was 30 years ago:)

You can google HUD decision on renting to felons to get more information. 

John Thedford, Real Estate Agent in FL (#BK3098153)
239-200-5600

Here is a bit more on governments attempt to "rectify" problems...whether perceived or factual:

The AG’s decree comes on the heels of the Seattle City Council’s renter protection ordinance in August that made it so landlords can no longer choose which tenants they believe will be best. Seattle landlords instead have to choose the first applicant who qualifies. The goal is to prohibit discrimination against people with different forms of payment, such as vouchers and subsidies.

GLAD I don't own rentals there! What a nightmare. 

John Thedford, Real Estate Agent in FL (#BK3098153)
239-200-5600

Its pretty horrible imo what sort of rules are heading our way as a landlord. There are some common sense best practices to use 

  • Do not impose blanket bans on renting to those with criminal history or arrest records.
  • If there is evidence of a conviction, consider the nature and severity of the crime and how long ago the criminal conduct took place.
  • Ensure everyone who interacts with applicants is trained well on current Fair Housing policies.
  • Keep screening policies pertaining to arrest records and criminal history specifically related to safety of persons and property. The policy must distinguish between criminal conduct that indicates a demonstrable risk to resident safety and property and criminal conduct that does not.
  • Obtain and use a standard screening policy in compliance with Fair Housing and HUD regulations, and apply it equally to anyone who applies. You may want to consult an attorney or housing specialist to develop a rental criteria relating to criminal conduct.

With these in mind its my belief the Wa State AG office has really over stepped its bounds in reaching for a racist conversation when none exists. 

The easy answer here is just to create more/higher barriers wherein the applicant will already be declined before you get to that point. For example, most convicted felons will have lower earning power due to their conviction, so have a strong income-to-rent threshold. Many convicted felons will have bad credit, a history of missed payments, sometimes due to their felony conviction (i.e. it's hard to pay your car note from jail), so have a credit threshold. 

I'm not saying don't rent to convicted felons; what I am saying is if this is one of your criteria, don't make it your primary or your only criteria. If someone passed all other requirements, there's a strong likelihood that they've managed to get their act together. And there are certain felony convictions that are unlikely to have the state attempting to act on their behalf, such as sex offenders, violent assaults, etc, so you can probably feel free to reject those applicants if you'd like. 

What's so funny is if you read the HUB ruling you find that all felons are to be given a mile wide variance EXCEPT if you were convicted of manufacture/distribution of drugs. Apparently drug dealers can never be redeemed in HUD's duplicitous and warped view of reality.

@Jay C, You should fight back hard with the idiots elected to local government and work to have them removed every time a ridiculous proposal concerning rentals is brought up. Alas, you live in a left leaning state so you will be fighting an uphill battle.

Originally posted by @Jay C. :

in May, the state asked a tester to follow up on a rental property advertisement on Craigslist, which said the apartment complex would automatically deny renters with a felony record. The state’s tester confirmed that the unit was still available and asked if he could apply for the unit despite having a felony conviction. The leasing consultant responded via email that a “felony would be an automatic denial.”

This is exactly why you should never give them a reason for denial. Let them submit an application, if you don't like them for any reason simply respond with "you do not meet our qualifications", or, "we have chosen another tenant with better qualifications".

Tenants don't know in what order applications were accepted, or even if you have another applicant at all. If your unit remains vacant you could say the last tenant you chose ended up falling through, or simply ignore an applicant all together. Don't answer their calls, block their number.

Originally posted by @Account Closed :
Originally posted by @Jay C.:

in May, the state asked a tester to follow up on a rental property advertisement on Craigslist, which said the apartment complex would automatically deny renters with a felony record. The state’s tester confirmed that the unit was still available and asked if he could apply for the unit despite having a felony conviction. The leasing consultant responded via email that a “felony would be an automatic denial.”

This is exactly why you should never give them a reason for denial. Let them submit an application, if you don't like them for any reason simply respond with "you do not meet our qualifications", or, "we have chosen another tenant with better qualifications".

Tenants don't know in what order applications were accepted, or even if you have another applicant at all. If your unit remains vacant you could say the last tenant you chose ended up falling through, or simply ignore an applicant all together. Don't answer their calls, block their number.

 Whether or not racism exists and whether or not you should have the latitude to select non-felon tenants is not necessarily the same thing. The city you rent in might have a majority white police force or some other factor that might play into arrests. Look at apartheid South Africa, where the population was 80% black/20% white, and you would have found the same scenario as you outlined - but you wouldn't claim that racism had no effect on that situation, would you?

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