If you are a landlord in the state of Massachusetts, you may use several different methods and sources of information to screen potential tenants. A criminal background check may be one of them. How you use this information may be considered discriminatory. Here’s what you need to know about why landlords cannot refuse renting to criminals…

Why Landlords Cannot Refuse Renting to Criminals

Criminal background or history is not one of the legally protected classes. However, according to HUD guidelines, landlords cannot refuse renting to criminals if it has a “discriminatory effect”. The criminal justice system tends to have racial imbalances.  Therefore, making decisions based on criminal history could essentially be a form of racial discrimination.

Here’s an excerpt from the 2016 HUD Guidelines:

“Because of widespread racial and ethnic disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system, criminal history-based restrictions on access to housing are likely disproportionately to burden African-Americans and Hispanics. While the Act does not prohibit housing providers from appropriately considering criminal history information when making housing decisions, arbitrary and overbroad criminal history-related bans are likely to lack a legally sufficient justification.”

MA Landlord Responsibilities

Basically, what this means is that landlords cannot refuse renting to criminals as a blanket rule. If a landlord chooses to request a CORI report, he/she should also ask for additional information to understand the actual crime before making a decision. CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) reports provide little details on actual offenses and the circumstances surrounding them.

Exceptions to The Rule

The Federal Fair Housing Act offers an exception for owner-occupied properties containing up to 4 units. This is referred to as the Mrs. Murphy Exemption. Landlords of such properties would be allowed to refuse renting to individuals with a criminal record. They must still comply with Fair Housing laws in advertising of rental properties and must still comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1866 which prohibits discrimination based on race.