Understanding Criminal Background Checks

Most landlords do a criminal background check as part of the application process. There are important things to know about the expectations a landlord might reasonably have and your rights as a prospective tenant.

Automatic Disqualification from Federally-Funded Housing and Individual Subsidies

There are two background issues that will prevent a person from being able to live in housing that has or currently receives federal funding or to use a rent subsidy that is funded by the federal government, such as a Housing Choice Voucher, HUD 811 PRA unit or tenant-based rental assistance through HOME funding. These backgrounds include 1) lifetime sex offense registry requirement; and 2) conviction of the production of methamphetamine on federally assisted property.

Other Convictions:

With regard to other criminal background issues, the landlord will typically have written standards for reviewing a criminal background report and denying housing. Often, a background that includes a felony conviction such as assault, battery, arson, breaking and entering, selling illegal drugs, and other serious crimes will result in a denial if the criminal behavior was within the last 5-10 years. Other convictions may also result in a denial if they are recent. Landlords can only consider convictions. They cannot use arrest records to deny housing.


Appeals and Accommodations

Often, the landlord will have an appeal process when someone is denied housing due to criminal or credit issues. If there are circumstances you would like to be considered that are related to your background, taking advantage of the appeal process is a good idea.

If your criminal background is directly related to your disability, a reasonable accommodation can be requested to overlook the background issue. Documentation of the need for the accommodations will be required from a healthcare professional who has sufficient knowledge of your disability issues and background to substantiate the need for the accommodation. For example, a person with a mental health disability who was not receiving treatment may have been convicted of assault. Since the conviction, the person may have engaged in treatment and has shown greater stability with medication and therapy. The person can request an accommodation and include information about their progress and absence of criminal behavior with treatment.

Expunging Criminal Records

If you have been charged with a crime, you may be able to have the criminal record expunged under certain circumstances. An expungement is the removal of court and police records from public inspection. This does not include Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) records, which may have minor traffic violations, such as a speeding ticket.

Who is eligible? If you have been charged with a crime, including a traffic violation for which a term of imprisonment may be imposed, you may file a petition for expungement if:

  1. You were found not guilty.
  2. The charge was dismissed.
  3. The charge resulted in probation before judgment (excluding charges of driving while under the influence or driving while impaired).
  4. The State’s Attorney did not prosecute (Nolle Prosequi) your charge.
  5. The court indefinitely postponed your case (stet).
  6. Your case was compromised (settled).
  7. You were convicted of only one non-violent criminal act and you were granted a full and unconditional pardon by the Governor. For a pardon packet, contact the Parole Commission’s Office at 410.585.3200.
  8. Juvenile Waived.

Substance Use Disorder

HUD has issued guidance specific to people with a history of substance abuse, including those with a criminal conviction history. The guidance states that housing should not be denied to people who are not currently abusing substances and who have successfully completed a treatment program. Documentation of completing the program may be required.

Please note that if a person resumes abusing substances, they can be removed from housing for a lease violation.

Note that the use of medical marijuana on federally assisted property is not permitted. The federal government does not recognize medical marijuana as a legal treatment, nor has it recognized marijuana as a legal substance, even in states where medical and/or recreational use of marijuana has been legalized.

Persons using marijuana on federally assisted property are in violation of their lease and can be evicted.


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