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DC’s New Progressive Law reduces Housing Discrimination affecting People of Color

This post was written by Taylor Healy*. Taylor is the Community Lawyering Project Supervisor with Bread for the City.

Yesterday, the DC Council unanimously passed the Fair Criminal Record Screening for Housing Act (“Housing Ban the Box”) – an extension of the Employment Ban the Box law that Bread for the City advocates and clients helped to pass in 2014.

asfd_editedCouncilmembers McDuffie and Bonds introduced the housing version of the bill back in April 2016. The Council then held a hearing in July where Bread organizer, Chearie Phelps-El, and 4 Bread client leaders testified in support of the bill. After months of advocacy efforts by a coalition of organizations including Bread for the City, the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, the Legal Aid Society of DC, Legal Counsel for the Elderly, the ACLU of the National Capital Area, and the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, DC now has one of – if not THE – most progressive laws in the country reducing housing discrimination against people of color who have already experienced discrimination at the hands of the criminal justice system.

Specifically, the bill will open up housing opportunities for people with criminal records – moving people out of homelessness and into housing much more quickly. The bill:

  1. Prohibits landlords from ever considering prior arrests that did not result in convictions when evaluating an applicant for tenancy.
  2. Prohibits a landlord from making an inquiry into or requiring an applicant to disclose a criminal conviction or pending criminal accusation prior to making a conditional offer for housing.
  3. Requires a landlord to give an applicant the financial, employment, criminal and rental history criteria used in deciding whether to rent or lease to an applicant before accepting an application fee.
  4. After making a conditional offer to an applicant, a landlord can only inquire about certain convictions or pending criminal accusations that have occurred in the past 7 years – that 7 year clock starts from the date of conviction and NOT release (a huge win for our coalition).
  5. If an applicant has a pending charge or conviction in the last 7 years for one of those crimes that can be considered, then the landlord still has to look at 6 factors to determine if the criminal record is related to the applicant’s ability to be a good tenant:
    • nature and severity of the crime;
    • age of the applicant at the time of the crime;
    • how long it’s been since the crime occurred;
    • any information on rehabilitation or good conduct since the crime occurred;
    • the degree that the crime would impact other tenants or the property if it reoccurred;
    • and whether the crime took place in the applicant’s rental unit.
  6. If the landlord decides to deny the application after considering those factors, then the denial has to be made in writing and state the reason for the denial and advise the applicant of their right to file a complaint at the Office of Human Rights.

We want to thank Councilmember Kenyon McDuffie for his strong leadership on this bill and Councilmember Bonds for co-introducing and supporting the progression of the bill. Staff members of the Judiciary Committee (Chanell Autrey, Jontae Clapp and Kate Mitchell) also deserve special recognition for working so collaboratively with the community to improve the bill. Another huge win towards increasing access to affordable housing!

*BFC’s Community Lawyering work is made possible in part through public and private funds awarded by the DC Bar Foundation.*

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