Two of the most crucial things for formerly incarcerated people to have once they get out are a place to live and a job. While getting a job can be a challenge, businesses, public entities and non-profit organizations offer a variety of programs that can help.
Finding a place to live that doesn’t involve sleeping on a friend’s or relative’s sofa can be even more difficult. That’s because having a criminal record is not a protected classification. Landlords can’t legally discriminate based on race, ethnicity, religion and a host of other characteristics. Private renters can, however, refuse to rent to someone who has a criminal record. They can find someone’s record if they run a background check and the aspiring renter in question has not had their record expunged.
Public housing authorities can also deny someone housing based on their criminal record. They’re required to give a prospective tenant a copy of their own record. However, unless there’s a significant error, that won’t help an aspiring renter leverage their situation to secure housing.
Blanket bans against those with criminal records have been deemed discriminatory
Some government entities have taken action to fight blanket housing bans against anyone with a criminal record. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines prohibit blanket bans because they disproportionately affect people of color. Shortly after these guidelines were issued, the state attorney general sanctioned five different property management companies for having blanket bans – also citing racial discrimination.
While action has been taken at all levels, from federal to local, regarding stated and blanket policies of not renting to anyone with a criminal record, this doesn’t mean, of course, that they can’t see someone’s criminal record and find a reason not to rent to them.
How expungement can make a difference
The best way to keep prospective landlords from seeing your record is to get it expunged. When a record is expunged, it typically cannot be seen by prospective employers, landlords or anyone outside the justice system. If you have a DUI conviction expunged, for example, and you get a second DUI, that will still be considered a repeat offense.
If you’re interested in exploring the possibility of expunging your record or you simply have questions or concerns about transitioning into life outside prison, it helps to have experienced, compassionate legal guidance.