The struggle to find suitable housing
As we enter 2021, there is an increasingly strong public interest in supporting individuals released from incarceration. After release, the formerly incarcerated often need suitable housing and employment, but their felony record gets in the way. These individuals may have no choice but to live with relatives or even go back to a life-of-crime.
If you do a Google search for “Felon-Friendly Housing”, you’re results may look like this:
“Guide on Finding Felon Friendly Apartments and Housing”
“Apartments That Accept Convicted Felons”
“Housing for Felons”
You get the idea. This hypothetical Google search looks promising — some rentals offer seconds chances for felons. But wait. Let’s look deeper into a new Google search. Let’s take a look at a few apartment complexes and their criminal rental criteria.
Property managers are refusing to rent to sex offenders
We’ll start with this result from Landlord Property Management in San Antonio, Texas. Their criminal rental criteria states:
A criminal background check will be conducted on EACH applicant.Findings of this report can result in application being denied. We do not rent to CONVICTED SEX OFFENDERS OR ANYONE REQUIRED TO REGISTER AS A SEX OFFENDER. Criminal backgrounds involving violent crimes, prostitution,domestic violence and/or involving the possession of weapons will automatically be declined!!
This is actually how the text reads on their website. I did not add any explanation points or caps. Let’s take a look at another company.
Southside Property Management & Real Estate in Menomonie, WI states:
If you have been convicted of any other crime that shows a demonstrable risk to tenant safety and/or property, your application may be denied after consideration of the nature and severity of the crime and the amount of time that has passed since the criminal conduct occurred.
Now you might think this sounds more promising, but there is a catch. More and more property managers and landlords have included this statement in their rental criteria, especially the statement, “demonstrable risk to tenant safety and/or property.” What does that mean, and how do they determine this? Unfortunately, most of the time they don’t. If you are someone on the sex offender registry, they already assume you demonstrate a risk to tenant safety and/or property and automatically denied.
As we can see from the above examples, the sex offender housing discrimination issue is a growing concern.
Let’s take a look at one more example. Red Rock Property Management in Liberty Lake, WA states in their criteria:
Conviction of any crime that requires a lifetime registration as a sex offender will result in denial.
In Washington state, anyone registered as a sexually violent predator must register for life. Also, “a person convicted of any sex offense or kidnapping offense who has one or more prior convictions for a sex offense or kidnapping offense, the duty to register shall continue indefinitely.”
You may think the rental criteria for Red Rock is more reasonable, but the point here is sex offenders are not considered “ex-felons” when it comes to finding rental housing. Landlords and property managers have created two classes of ex-felons: the “normal” ex-felon, and the sex offenders. For example, in Cook County, Illinois, a new ordinance makes it illegal to refuse to show or rent property to people with certain criminal records. Can you guess which felony is an exception? You guessed correctly:
It doesn’t apply to sex offenders or people who have a criminal conviction that, after an “individualized assessment,” shows that denial based on the conviction “is necessary to protect against a demonstrable risk to personal safety and/or property of others affected by the transaction.”
Murder is more of a concern for landlords compared to sex offenses
Yes, I wrote the title above correctly. Murder is more of a concern for landlords when renting to prospective tenants. In the Federal Probation — A Journal of Correctional Philosophy and Practice, by Lynn M. Clark, M.P.A, J.D., results from a study in Akron, Ohio, shows landlords’ perspectives towards housing released criminal offenders.
Of the property managers and owners surveyed, 67 percent indicated that they inquire about criminal history on rental applications. Forty-three percent said that they would be inclined to reject an applicant with a criminal conviction. The crimes of particular concern to the property managers who said they would reject an ex-offender applicant were violent offenses (49 percent), sex offenses (37 percent), murder (19 percent), drug offenses (9percent), all felonies (9 percent), domestic violence (6 percent), arson(9 percent), and property offenses (7 percent). The primary reason for their inclination to reject an applicant with a criminal history was protection and safety of community. The second most offered reason for rejection was that ex-offenders are not wanted on the property or in the neighborhood because they have bad values.
Sex offenses are the number two concern for landlords, behind violent offenses at 49 percent. In my opinion, one of the reasons landlords do not want to rent to sex offenders is the fear of a reduction in property values. (True or not). The pressure from neighbors is also a heavy burden. And thirdly, landlords may be held responsible for criminal conduct on their property.
Is it illegal?
Yes and no. Sex offender housing discrimination is not protected in the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which states:
Prohibited discrimination on the basis of the following criteria (called “protected categories”): race or color; religion; national origin; familial status or age — includes families with children under the age of 18 and pregnant women; disability or handicap, or sex.
An important guidance from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was released on April 4, 2016. Though the guidance isn’t actual law, it advises landlords and property managers to evaluate each tenant application on a case-by-case basis.
A housing provider with a more tailored policy or practice that excludes individuals with only certain types of convictions must still prove that its policy is necessary to serve a “substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest.” To do this, a housing provider must show that its policy accurately distinguishes between criminal conduct that indicates a demonstrable risk to resident safety and/or property and criminal conduct that does not.
The last statement, “demonstrable risk to resident safety and/or property” is now being used by landlords (in rental criteria), as discussed earlier in this article. It’s unsure how a property manager demonstrates demonstrable risk, but again in most cases, being on the registry may meet this required burden. In either case, I encourage anyone with a felony to print this guidance and take it with you on your rental search.
Tenant Screening Services
Tenant screening services are consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) that provide background data on tenant applicants. There are several problems with these reports. One, they sometimes contain errors. Second, some landlords will use these reports automatically to screen out people with felony convictions. Especially in a busy rental market, landlords will choose individuals without a criminal history because they have many applications. You can compare this to applying for a job. Your application never makes it to the bosses’ desk.
Sex offender housing discrimination is a growing problem in the United States. Homeless shelters deny registrants. Storm shelters deny registrants. Assisted living communities deny elderly registrants. Property managers are now going against the HUD guidance with a sex offender blanket ban. What can be done? Where do registrants and their families find housing?
First, I advise to seek out private landlords. Skip the property management companies unless they have a policy stating case-by-case criteria. Landlords that are private and perhaps have one rental home may be more understanding of your situation. Be upfront about your past. This will save you money on application fees. You can also bring reference letters to support your past efforts since your release from incarceration or parole.
In my film, NOT FOR RENT!, I discuss the challenges ex-offenders face as they attempt to find rental housing. This documentary film was personal for me because I still face housing rejection. As of this writing, my felony is 14 years old, and housing is still a challenge. I believe everyone deserves a place to live, even people on the registry. Let’s get rid of the “not in our town” mentality. New rental policies that allow for second chances for all is a must. If property managers and landlord continue their blanket bans, the prison revolving door will continue to swing.
It would be an honor for me to assist you in locating rental housing in your area. If you are dealing with sex offender housing discrimination, I offer affordable consulting services. Contact me today for details.