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All jokes aside, housing is one of our most basic needs, so can landlords refuse to rent to people with a criminal record? And do you have to explain a criminal conviction on a housing application?
While federal and state public housing authorities may not discriminate based on race, gender, religion, etc., they can absolutely consider criminal records when renting public housing. They can also consider new criminal convictions when deciding whether to evict an existing tenant.
The only requirement is that public housing authorities provide a copy of the criminal record to the tenant or subject of the eviction notice. At that point, the tenant can dispute the accuracy of the record at a grievance hearing or a trial.
Private landlords generally have more leeway when screening potential tenants, but in this case, state law may limit landlord actions. While landlords can refuse to rent to someone because of a criminal conviction, some states (like New York) prohibit landlords of buildings containing four or more apartments from having a blanket policy against renting to anyone with a criminal record. Make sure you're familiar with your state's laws on leases and rental agreements.
One way of avoiding having to disclose a prior conviction is to get your criminal record expunged. Expungement rules vary from state to state, but generally an expungement will remove your criminal history from public view. If you are able to get your record expunged, a potential landlord won't be able to see your criminal history, and you won't need to disclose prior convictions or the expungement.
If you've been denied housing due to your criminal record, you may want to talk to an experienced landlord-tenant attorney in your area.