Must we do criminal background checks?

My feeling is that checking a person’s past legal issues leads to a slippery slope of possible discrimination. What do you do with that info? What if it’s a 10-year-old case of, say, vandalism done when a person was a teenager. Do you not rent to that person? Fair housing law says if you make an exception once you have to be consistent.

I can vouch for 12+ years of rarely doing criminal checks and doing just fine without them. If a tenant ends up being a nuisance, there are remedies and it’s ridiculous to make everyone pay for and subject themselves to a criminal check. I firmly believe it’s overstepping.

If a potential renter had an issue in the past with the law and it’s solved that’s not my business. Not to mention all the flaws in the legal system and possible reasons why someone may have a cloud on their legal record.

But if a landlord wants to justify and use criminal background check info, why don’t they also ask the renter if he or she owns any weapons or firearms? Using the logic of the background check, it’s not much of a leap to asking this sort of thing. Or what about mental health issues? A mentally unstable tenant can be more of a hassle for me and a concern for neighbors than someone who, say, got a DUI. So where does it end?

I do believe firmly in calling all landlord references, and doing credit checks and charging higher deposit or getting a financially responsible co-signer if an applicant has credit issues.

I call all landlord references directly. Companies who farm out landlord references to [a background check service] don’t get as much info as I can when I call them directly. When I was “hanging” my real estate license before I became an independent broker I worked in a large property management office in Boulder that uses [a background check service]. Many times the results of a landlord reference call was “could not reach” the person. Managers there would just go ahead and approve incomplete applications.

It’s easy to fall into paranoia and CYA-mode in property management. I don’t think it’s merited a lot of time.

The US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development agrees with me! In April 2016 they released a legal guidance paper stating, among other things, that nearly 1/3 of the US population has a criminal record of some sort and emphasizing the need to treat everyone equally.

Click here for an article from the New York Times with more info.

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