Trump Wants to Give Landlords Even More Power Over People With Criminal Records

(VICE) Morgan Baskin, September 7, 2019

Landlords have a lot of power. They can, for example, deny renters’ applications for housing for a slew of reasons, including having a criminal history. Now, the Trump administration wants to take away one of the only tools available to people with criminal records in their fight for fair housing — and give landlords even greater ability to discriminate.

Under federal law, people can sue landlords if they’re denied housing based on their criminal histories — particularly if the crime is old or unrelated to housing. But the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed a new rule last month that would give landlords a free pass if they hired a third-party company to vet their applicants, which as many as 90% of landlords do, according to experts. The companies use software to analyze prospective tenants’ credit and criminal histories and give landlords a recommendation about whether to offer them a lease.

The new rule, which could go into effect as early as October, would allow landlords to avoid legal liability for acting on the recommendations provided to them — even in cases where they deny housing to someone with a decade-old shoplifting charge. And those decisions could disproportionately affect people of color and turn deny housing to those who need it the most.

“If you take away all these restrictions, and give landlords carte blanche to just turn people down willy nilly for whatever they want … it’s going to fall on people who have those records more often,” said Eric Dunn, the National Housing Law Project’s Director of Litigation. “So it’s going to be African Americans, it’s going to be Latinos.”

While people with criminal histories aren’t a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, the seminal 1968 law that still guides housing law today, previous presidential administrations have tried to make discriminating against tenants more difficult.