DOJ Says Landlords Cannot Use Overly Broad Generalizations When Screening Applicants for Criminal Records

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a statement of interest that argues the Fair Housing Act does not permit landlords to use overly broad generalizations that disproportionately impact protected classes of people when screening applicants’ criminal records.

The statement of interest was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Fortune Society Inc. v. Sandcastle Towers Housing Development Fund Corp. et al. The Fortune Society, a non-profit organization that provides and helps locate housing for formerly incarcerated individuals, brought the lawsuit to challenge the screening policy of a housing provider in Queens, NY that advertised it did not accept people with criminal records.

The Fortune Society is a member of the Reentry and Housing Coalition, led by NLIHC and the National Alliance to End Homelessness, which is working to ensure justice-involved individuals have access to housing.

The brief supports HUD’s recent guidance regarding how housing providers may violate the Fair Housing Act when employing blanket policies in refusing to rent or renew a lease based on an individual’s criminal history, as such policies may have a disparate impact on racial minorities.

Although the Fair Housing Act does not prohibit housing providers from considering applicants’ criminal records, DOJ states that “categorical prohibitions that do not consider when the conviction occurred, what the underlying conduct entailed, or what the convicted person has done since then run a substantial risk of having a disparate impact based on race or national origin.”

The brief explains that when a housing provider has a screening policy with a disparate impact, the housing provider must “prove with evidence – and not just by invoking generalized concerns about safety – that the ban is necessary.”  Even then, the policy will still violate the Fair Housing Act if there is a less discriminatory alternative.

“This filing demonstrates the Justice Department’s steadfast commitment to removing discriminatory barriers that prevent formerly incarcerated individuals from restarting their lives,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Women and men who served their time and paid their debt to society need a place to live, yet unlawful housing policies can too often prevent successful reentry to their communities. While not all criminal records policies adopted by landlords violate the Fair Housing Act, we will take action when they do."

Read the statement of interest at:

Learn more about the Reentry and Housing Coalition at:

Learn more about the Fortune Society at: