Welcome, Felons?

In a recent phone call from a prospective tenant, Robert’s last question of me was, “So, do you rent to felons?” When I asked what his felony was, he replied, “Strangulation.” I told him I’d have to talk to my owner, and suggested he call me back in a couple days. (I’m the owner, of course, but keeping that fact private has saved me time, stress and hassle through the years.)

HUD Secretary Julian Castro recently released a 10-page statement, warning property managers, agents and landlords they can be held liable for discrimination if they deny tenancy because of criminal records.

He wants to protect the fair housing rights of people who are re-entering the housing market after leaving prison. He claims that colorblind policies — like screening all applicants for criminal background checks — have a discriminatory disparate impact on minorities that are arrested at rates higher than their proportion of the general population.

So, even though barring tenancy to felons serves a nondiscriminatory, legitimate purpose for our neighborhoods, we may be putting ourselves at risk to do so!

And although Robert never called me back, let’s assume I had rented to him, and three months later, he fought with and strangled my tenant on the other side of the double. Was it my responsibility to protect the neighbors? Would that tenant have the right to sue me for negligence?

Although I’ve given second chances to some who’ve had run-ins with the law, I’ve always had a policy of not renting to people with felonies. I’m a single woman, I work alone much of the time, and I care deeply about my neighborhoods and tenants. With this new missive from HUD, maybe a conversation with my real estate attorney is in order …

1 thought on “Welcome, Felons?

  1. What an interesting and insightful post. I specialize in single-room rentals and often serve people who have been formerly incarcerated.

    Renting to a violent felon is a bit of a “catch-22” situation for a landlord. On one hand, felons have rights. But on the other hand, we have a legal obligation to provide safe surroundings to our existing residents. I for one tend to err on the side of protecting the community. It’s not that I don’t believe in rehabilitation: I do. However I’ve also noticed that a person’s behavior in the recent past is the best possible predictor of their future behavior. Anybody can say anything, and a person who’s been through the prison system for a violent crime generally learns exactly what to say in order to look good. Behavior in a low-structure environment such as an apartment complex is different from behavior in a highly structured correctional facility.

    I’ve written a little bit about what I call “cafeteria justice”: the notion that, once someone has “paid” for his or her crime by serving a sentence, other people are morally or even legally obligated to pretend that the crime never occurred. It’s not good for any community, because it enables recidivists to re-offend in ways that would be much more difficult otherwise.


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