Understanding the complexities of housing and rentals laws is a big part of your responsibilities as a landlord. When you’re choosing whom to rent to among rental applicants, there are certain factors you are not legally allowed to use as part of your decision.
Most landlords know that they cannot deny a rental application on the basis of protected classes such as race or religion, but would they know what to do if they received an application from a convicted sex offender? Or would they be left wondering: Do I have to rent to a sex offender?
Talking about this type of crime and offense can be very upsetting for people, and that is a big part of why landlords aren’t familiar with the legalities involved in renting (or not renting) to sex offenders. But it is incredibly important for you to know exactly what you should and should not do when reviewing this type of rental application!
Today, we’ll simplify this information so you can come out of reading this article better informed about sex offender housing discrimination laws.
A Table Of Contents On Sex Offender Housing Discrimination
- Do I Have To Rent To A Sex Offender?
- When You Can Deny Or Evict A Convicted Applicant
- Do Landlords Need To Check Their Applicants?
- Do Landlords Need To Take Other Precautions?
When a landlord discovers a potential tenant is a convicted or registered sex offender, they may be tempted to deny the application for that reason and that reason alone.
However, denying a convicted applicant for that reason and that reason alone is likely to cause problems down the road because the law does not permit the use of the sex offender registry as a means for denying housing.
In other words, you likely cannot deny an application because someone is a registered sex offender without any other risk being present as well. While it is not a protected class under any type of housing laws, you would need to be able to prove the risk of the situation.
Of course, the world we live in is complicated, and there are some liberties you can take as a landlord when you are dealing with something this sensitive.
You have a legal obligation to protect residents at your properties, especially in multi-unit properties, from known risks or risk that landlords should have been aware of. In a case where having a registered sex offender live in your property would create a risky situation for other residents, you may be able to deny their application on the basis of their conviction.
Before you would be able to do that, however, you would need to gather more information by working with the local police. With their assistance, you can determine whether or not your property is the right location for them to live at this time. Police are more familiar with what types of risks a convicted applicant might present, so working with them is ideal.
For example, you would be able to deny an applicant with a recent offense if you rent out units in a building with lots of children. Denying an applicant with a 15 or more year old conviction to rent out an entire single family home, on the other hand, is less likely to stand up to a court of law if your application denial was challenged.
Lied On Application
If the applicant has been convicted of a felony and did not disclose this on their rental application, you can deny their application or evict them. Lying on the rental application is an eviction-worthy mistake.
If you discover that a tenant hid this type of conviction from you, you have the legal right to start the eviction process immediately because of this lie.
Many landlords have never considered whether or not their applicants are registered sex offenders. In many cases, this type of judgement might not even show up in the information that you check when screening their application.
Still, the sex offender registry is a public database that anyone can check. As a member of the public, you are permitted to check the registry.
If an applicant’s name does appear on the registry, however, you cannot simply deny them housing because of this. As mentioned in the previous section, you must do more research to determine whether or not housing the applicant would create risk for other residents, your business, or the greater community.
If you decide to rent to the applicant, you might still be wondering if there is more you need to do. Do you need to alert the local police that they are in the area? Do you need to tell the neighbors? Do you have any legal responsibility to cover these types of issues?
Unfortunately, there is not one clear law about this issue. Any cases that have been determined in the past have been determined individually, so it is hard to review a precedent.
Generally speaking, we recommend the following to landlords:
- Question Local Authorities
There is no reason you cannot ask local authorities about the rules surrounding sex offender housing. The authorities will be able to confirm that the convicted tenant has reported their move to the appropriate offices and that they are not violating any rules.
- Remember Registry Information Is Public
Even if you do end up renting to a convicted applicant, you may not need to alert everyone in the neighborhood. The public registry is, after all, public information. Anyone can obtain the information on their own, so you don’t have a duty to report it.
- Add A Clause To Your Leases
If you are dealing with multi-unit buildings or are just generally concerned about the lack of laws in these types of situations, you may want to add an addendum to your leases, which informs tenants about the public database. Without naming anyone specific, this helps to educate people about an available public database.
- Consult Local Laws & A Lawyer
Finally, you need to get help to deal with this situation! As much as we’d love to be the be-all-end-all stop for advice on this issue, we simply don’t have the resources to grant you information for your specific country and state. In California, for example, leases must have some sex offender registry information in them.
Consult a local lawyer and work with them to determine the best course of action based on your local restrictions.
The Complications of Convictions
Applicants that are convicted of serious crimes and felonies are not protected from discrimination under the Fair Housing Law act. However, you still must have a serious reason why you believe you should not rent to them.
Do you have to rent to a sex offender as a landlord? No, you do not. There is no law that specifically states that you cannot deny their application on this basis. However, you will want to consider in detail why exactly their application is not a good choice in case they challenge your decision.