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Office of Human Rights
 

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Returning Citizens and Housing

Beginning October 1, 2017, the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights (OHR) will be charged with enforcing the Fair Criminal Record Screening for Housing Act of 2016, which prevents unlawful screening of a housing applicant’s criminal background. The law imposes several new requirements for rental housing providers including: (1) provision of written notice of rent eligibility criteria to applicants; and (2) not making an inquiry or asking any questions related to an applicant’s criminal background or arrest history at any time prior to making a conditional offer of housing to the applicant. Applicants who believe a housing provider has violated the law may file a free complaint with OHR. All complaints must have occurred on or after the law's effective date of October 1, 2017. 

Housing Providers Covered by the Law

The law applies to most rental housing accommodations  in the District of Columbia. Additional exceptions apply.*

What the Law Requires of Housing Providers

During the housing application review process, the law requires housing providers to:

  • all eligibility criteria used in deciding whether to rent to the applicant, including financial,employment, criminal and rental history; and
  • a statement that applicants may provide evidence of errors within their criminal record, rehabilitation or other mitigating factors.

However, a housing provider may ask about pending criminal accusations or criminal conviction(s) after extending a conditional offer of housing (a housing provider may never inquire or require to disclose a pending criminal accusation or conviction of an indivisual under 18 years of age who will reside in the unit). After making a conditional offer, a housing provider may only ask about criminal accusations pending at the time of the criminal background check or specific convictions listed in the law that have occurred within the past 7 years. A housing provider who properly inquires about a criminal conviction can only withdraw the offer for a substantial, legitimate, non-discriminatory interest that is reasonable under the six factors** listed in the Act. If a housing offer is withdrawn, housing providers should supply the applicant with written notice of the specific reason for withdrawing the offer and a notice of the applicant’s right to file a complaint with the DC Office of Human Rights.

The applicant can also request from the housing provide a free copy of all information used during the application process, including the criminal background report using the Request for Records form within 20 days of the housing provider withdrawing the offer. The housing provider then has 10 days to give the information to the applicant.

Filing a Complaint

If you believe a housing provider violated or is violating the Fair Criminal Record Screening for Housing Act, you can file a complaint with our office within 365 days of the alleged violation. 

Penalties for Violations

OHR investigates the case and the Commission on Human Rights is the final decisionmaker on whether a violation occurred. Penalties may be imposed with half of the amount going to the complainant and the other half to the District, up to the following amounts:

  • $1000 for a housing provider with 1 to 10 rental units;
  • $2500 for a housing provider with 11 to 20 rental units; and
  • $5000 for a housing provider with 21 or more rental units.

Resources 

Resources for Housing Applicants

The following materials are available for housing applicants:

Resources for Housing Providers

The following materials are available for housing providers:

* Exceptions apply for some housing providers, including (1) those where federal or District law or regulations require considering an applicant’s criminal history; and (2) when a housing provider owns and occupies a housing accommodation that includes three or fewer units

** The six factors can be found on our Preview of Law for Housing Providers (PDF).