Criminal History Guidelines for Federal Housing Providers

  1. How a Background Check is Done
  2. ​​​​​​​Why is a background check important?
  • There is a lot of leeway given for criminal record requirements as part of their application and admissions process.
  • An applicant cannot be denied admission only on the basis of arrests.
    • An arrest only means that someone is suspected of criminal activity and it has not yet been proven.
  • Convictions can hurt an applicant's chances of qualifying.
    • A conviction assumes that evidence was presented that is proof that the applicant engaged in disqualifying criminal activity.
    • The housing provider must not only look at what kind of crime was committed, but also when it occurred.
      • Violent and drug-related crimes have more weight than petty crimes.
      • For example: An applicant with an assault conviction in the last year would be evaluated differently than one with a shoplifting conviction ten years before.
    • Federal housing providers are also instructed to look at the underlying conduct of the applicant, and what he or she has done since the conviction.
      • Applicants who show that they have met court requirements and continued rehabilitation efforts are more likely to get approval for housing assistance than those with a history of repeat offenses.
  • Persons on a state’s sex offender registry are banned from some HUD programs, including Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV), Public Housing, and Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA).

Part 1: How a Background Check is Done

  • HUD housing providers will require a background check for all adult members of the household (18 years or older), and all persons convicted of a crime as an adult.
  • The application should include information about your right to request a reasonable accommodation; and to present evidence of mitigating circumstances such as participation in drug treatment, counseling or educational programs.

Part 2: ​​​​​​​Why is a background check important?

Federal housing providers have a number of valid reasons to look at criminal records. They must make sure that their residents feel safe in their homes. While housing providers cannot deny all applicants with a criminal record, they are justified in excluding applicants with a recent history of crimes that threaten the health, safety or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises by residents and staff. Recent convictions for violent or drug-related crimes often fall under this type of exclusion.

The 2016 HUD guidance balances the need to provide a safe living environment with the Fair Housing Act's nondiscrimination requirements. If a federal housing provider uses criminal history as part of its application review, HUD requires an analysis of whether its policy is discriminatory.