Are Background Checks for Housing Discriminatory or a Necessity?

Many who apply for an apartment often go through a background check and, in some cases, a credit check. The degree to which both are used, however, varies with the apartment building and if an individual is applying for public housing. In the case of a recent crime crackdown in Irving, Texas, background checks have become mandatory for those applying for housing in certain apartment complexes. The NAACP, as the linked article explains, objects to this, as this practice appears discriminatory.

On a positive note, this practice has lowered crime in Irving, but who is being excluded has the NAACP concerned. As the article illustrates, residents who have criminal pasts – the resident had a drug conviction in 1993 – are being excluded, although the complexes are taking each resident on a case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, those who have solid renting histories, but long past convictions, are being evicted.

But, as the comments to the article show, people in the complexes want to feel safe in their homes. How should you use background checks to determine if a resident or apartment applicant should stay or go?

For a typical apartment background check, the landlord examines a candidate’s history at each residence and if a person has past criminal convictions pertaining to their past apartments. As landlords want a tenant who isn’t noisy or disruptive and pays on time, the candidate’s past history indicates whether or not he or she will be a good tenant. At the same time, however, residents have the right to feel safe in their homes; they shouldn’t be worrying if a criminal is lurking around the grounds.

But many with past criminal histories have moved on and should be given a chance to have fair and equal housing. If apartment complexes in Irving will screen each candidate, they should take each criminal history into context, much like criminal history is used in employment decisions. If the candidate hasn’t committed a crime in a number of years and if the crime didn’t involve others, he or she should be allowed to rent.