Criminal Conviction Screening Policies – 5 Ways to Avoid Discriminatory Liability

June 24, 2016
Criminal Background Checks

Every criminal conviction is not the same. You want your apartment residents to feel safe and you want the peace of mind to know that no criminal activity is taking place on your property. In some cases, you may have limited rentals to those without criminal convictions or you may have thoroughly looked into a prospective renter’s criminal history to determine if you wanted to rent to them. Depending on the procedures you take and the language you use to handle this touchy subject, you could be setting yourself up for a costly lawsuit. At Top Floor Insurance, we want to make sure you have the latest information you need to make informed business decisions.

Here are five ways that you can ensure you are not held liable for discriminatory practices.

  • Have a clear, written criminal screening policy and follow it – How you handle criminal convictions should be standardized across rental applicants. When considering whether or not to rent to an individual with a documented criminal record, other factors like race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion should be left out. If you inconsistently apply screening policies, you could be found guilty of discriminatory practices.
  • Document your decisions with reasons – Whatever your decision, whether to rent to an individual with a criminal history or not,be sure to always document your reasoning and keep this on file for at least 5 years. This way, should you be sued for discriminatory practices, you would have a documented history of how you handle criminal convictions and how you arrived at your decision. Plus, this can help you make consistent decisions, every time you are faced with an individual with similar circumstances.
  • Allow the applicant the option to explain – Whenever possible give the applicant time to respond and provide more details about the conviction. This could include the circumstances that led to the event/convictions or what they may have done since the event to remedy their behavior (i.e. anger management, community service, etc). Be sure to document all details asthis can be used to provide justification for your decision to extend or deny a rental agreement.
  • Give greater weight to the nature of the conviction – Every crime is not made equal. A criminal conviction of fraud should be considered differently than a criminal conviction of rape or murder. The violence related to the crime must be investigated and evaluated. A prospective renter with a less violent criminal history, in general, may pose less of a risk than an applicant with either a violent criminal history or a recurring pattern of criminal activity. Also take into account the dates of the convictions, the length of time that may have occurred between convictions, or since the last conviction. Having a criminal conviction over 20 years old should carry less weight than a conviction that is handed down within the past 3-5 years.

At the end of the day, you, as the property owner, you have the legal responsibility to keep your residents safe. However, applicants have rights too and should not be unjustly denied rental access due only to a criminal conviction without further consideration being taken. The key is to take the time to be thorough and consistent, giving every potential applicant a fair chance.

Protecting your property investment is equally as important as keeping your renters safe. Many apartment community owners do not have the right coverage and may be paying thousands of dollars more in insurance premiums than they have to. If you would like a thorough review of your insurance policy and want to review additional steps you can take to reduce your liability risk, feel free to call the apartment community insurance specialists at Top Floor Insurance at 404-266-3218.