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D.C. Considers Legislation to Limit Owners' Ability to Screen Residents

A person handing house keys over to a couple signing paperwork

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On July 11, the Council of the District of Columbia considered the Fair Criminal Record Screening for Housing Act of 2016. The measure was inspired by HUD's recently issued guidance on criminal background screening. The proposal contains elements of the guidance, including a requirement that owners establish that their policies serve a substantial, legitimate nondiscriminatory interest and requiring owners to consider relevant mitigating factors in evaluating a resident. However, the Act goes far beyond HUD's guidance in its restrictions on rental housing providers.

The Act limits owners to a five-year look back period and possibly restricts owners' ability to utilize credit history and previous rental history. NAA's local affiliate, the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington (AOBA) opposed these provisions at the hearing by arguing that credit and previous rental history are fundamental tenets of determining whether an applicant is qualified.

AOBA was successful in getting the Council to delay implementing the act by agreeing to establish a working group to further discuss concerns raised by all of the stakeholders. The working group will convene during the Council's upcoming recess.

D.C. is not the first jurisdiction to consider restrictions on criminal record screening in light of HUD's guidance. In June, the Seattle City Council adopted a resolution that encourages the use of an individualized tenant assessment using the Fair Housing Act's discriminatory effects standard to avoid fair housing violations when criminal history is used as a resident screening criterion. The resolution had previously been drafted as a mandate and was successfully reduced in scope due to the efforts of the Washington Multi-Family Housing Association.

NAA continues to monitor this issue as similar proposals come up around the country.

Nicole Upano