Question: How urgent is this? How soon do you recommend that we review and revise our criminal history policies?
Answer: Time is of the essence, said Williams, who believes that anyone with a broad generalized policy is at high risk for challenge. Certainly the larger your company, the more chance there will be that you could be challenged, so she believes it's a very smart practice for everyone - all companies - to take another look at their criminal screening policy to determine if it needs to be revised, and if so, to immediately go about taking the steps to do so.
If you haven't done so already, pull out your resident selection criteria and take a close look at the evaluation standards for applicants with criminal records. Depending on what it says, you may need to make some changes right away. Then review it in detail - and get help from your attorney, resident screening company, and other advisors to ensure that it complies with HUD guidelines. Richer offered some key best practices:
Question. A guest has applied for temporary occupant status in our park. He has a lengthy criminal record and we are concerned about approving him as a temporary occupant. When we informed him, he claimed that he could not be denied because of prior criminal activity from 10 years ago. He also said that since the community does not require a background checks for ‘guests’ he would stay with different friends throughout the park for 14 days and then move to another friend in the park. Two questions - can we still deny based on a criminal record from 10 years ago - our screening criteria clearly says we can. And what do you do if he starts ‘couch surfing’ every 14 days with a different friend in the park?
CRIMINAL HISTORY SELECTION CRITERIA BEST PRACTICES
What should you do in light of HUD's guidance? The first thing to realize is that the HUD guidance isn't intended only for HUD program housing providers, explained Richer.
Industry experts agree that the guidance provided by HUD applies to all housing providers, not just those receiving federal funding. The best practices are being recommended, so that any housing provider that uses criminal histories in its applicant screening process will consider disparate impact and review its criteria, adjusting as necessary, she said.
This is the first of four articles on the legal and practical considerations for housing providers when developing a criminal history screening policy. This is a BIG fair housing issue and one that produces a lot of phone calls to the MHCO Office.
It is very important for all housing providers to review and consider whether your current criminal screening policy should be revised to avoid a successful challenge in a fair housing case based on its disparate impact on minority applicants. "There are fair housing advocacy agencies that are actively searching for companies with simplistic and generalized criminal history policies to challenge. We don't want your companies to be those test cases," she said.
In this series of articles, the Coach presents highlights, along with FAQs about complying with fair housing law when screening applicants based on criminal history.