Obama warns landlords: Criminals have right to rent

By Cheryl Chumley

Criminals have rights to homes, too, the White House administration told landlords.
Criminals have rights to homes, too, the White House administration told landlords.

The Obama administration sent out a stark warning to landlords around the nation via new guidance that says when it’s OK to refuse renting to those with criminal backgrounds, and when it’s not – when it moves into the camp of racial discrimination.

As the Daily Caller noted, the federal Fair Housing Act doesn’t mention criminals as a protected class. But the Department of Housing and Urban Development said in its newest guidance that citing the criminal record of a potential renter as cause to deny rent is oftentimes a form of racial discrimination.

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“The Fair Housing Act prohibits both intentional housing discrimination and housing practices that have an unjustified discriminatory effect because of race, national origin, or other protected characteristics,” HUD’s guidelines read, the Daily Caller reported. “Because of widespread racial and ethnic disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system, criminal history-based restrictions on access to housing are likely disproportionately to burden African-Americans and Hispanics. While the act does not prohibit housing providers from appropriately considering criminal history information when making housing decisions, arbitrary and over-broad criminal history-related bans are likely to lack a legally sufficient justification.”

Roughly 25 percent of Americans have a record, ranging from a felony conviction to an arrest that doesn’t actually result in charges.

And blacks, about 12 percent of the U.S. population, nonetheless represent roughly 36 percent of the prison population. Hispanics have similarly disproportionate general population-to-prison population statistics.

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HUD Secretary Julian Castro said such realities shouldn’t translate into housing market disparities, however.

“The fact that you were arrested shouldn’t keep you from getting a job and it shouldn’t keep you from renting a home,” he said, during a National Low Income Housing Coalition gathering, the Daily Caller reported. “When someone has been convicted of a crime and has paid their debt to society, then they ought to have an effective second chance at life. The ability to find housing is an indispensable second chance in life.”

HUD allows for landlords to be selective when it comes to renting to those with criminal histories, but only if such selectivity is based on provable concern for the safety of others in the community. The federal administration’s new guidance suggests landlords consider a host of factors when deciding about the severity of the criminal background and whether it would truly impact the safety of the community.

On Tuesday, radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh verbally thrashed the president over his warnings to landlords.

“Oh, I wish so many people had listened to me when I told everybody who this guy was back in 2008 and 2009,” Limbaugh lamented. “So when the criminal shows up, he can brandish his criminal record and laugh at you and say, ‘You have to rent from me or I can sue you.’ That’s where this is headed, based on race, because of the presumed racist motivations that result in a racially imbalanced judicial system.”

Limbaugh also predicted no pushback from the powers that be in the Republican Party.

“Look, the Republican establishment’s not gonna say a word about this, I will guaran-damn-tee you,” he explained. “The Republican establishment hasn’t said a word about anything like this that Obama has done in the last seven years. They’ve been afraid to, because they will be called racist or whatever the media will say about them for being critical of our first African-American president.”

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