Having a criminal record doesn't automatically disqualify you from low-income housing. The criteria for accepting someone with a criminal background differs, depending on the local public housing authority or property management company. However, certain violations result in an automatic denial no matter where you live.
Criminal Background Check
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires a background check for all adult household members applying for federally subsidized housing. Property management companies and public housing authorities are allowed to adopt their own reasonable criminal history policies as long as they include HUD's automatic denial criteria. Whatever the policy, it must be recorded in a written tenant selection plan and must be readily available for applicants to review.
There are four types of activity that result in the automatic denial of your low-income housing application, which are: having a record of eviction from assisted housing for any drug-related activity in the past three years; having someone in your household be suspected of using illegal drugs; having a registered sex offender among your household; and being identified as a pattern alcohol abuser.
Other Reasons for Denial
Additional offenses could cause your application to be denied, depending on the landlord's selection criteria. This could include anyone who has been engaged in drug-related criminal activity; violent criminal activity; or any other criminal activity that could disrupt the lives of community residents, the property owner, employees, contractors, subcontractors or agents of the owner. Each landlord can decide how much time needs to have passed since the criminal activity took place, before providing housing. The length of time must be reasonable and applied to all applicants.
Reasons for Leniency
When determining your eligibility for assistance, landlords and public housing authorities often consider the seriousness of the criminal activity; how it may affect community safety and security; how much time has passed since you were engaged in criminal activity; evidence that you're no longer involved in criminal behaviors; that you have completed an approved rehabilitation program; and recommendations from a professional who has direct knowledge of your current lifestyle. Only proven charges resulting in a conviction are considered a reason for denial. Reasonable accommodations may be made if the criminal offense was related to a disability. Typically, you won't be denied admission if you were a victim of domestic violence and the criminal activity was a result of that.
If You're Denied
If your application is denied you'll receive a rejection letter in the mail specifically stating the reason for denial. You have the right to dispute the landlords decision in writing or in person within 14 days from the date of the letter. Usually, a final eligibility decision is made within five business days of either meeting with you, or receiving your written response.
Samantha P. Hawthorne has been a published journalist since 2010. Her articles appear in six newspapers within two California counties, as well as several leading technology websites. With extensive experience in property management, she earned certifications in fair housing, rural development, real estate principles, practices and legal aspects.