The guidance below describes how a criminal record may affect applicants and tenants in North Carolina who live in subsidized housing.
Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) operate a number of subsidized housing programs in North Carolina, including public housing and Housing Choice (“Section 8”) Vouchers. This guidance applies to Public Housing Authorities and Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher administrators. Click here for guidance that applies to housing built with Low Income Housing Tax Credits.
Each Public Housing Authority (PHA) and Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher administrator is independent and may have their own policies. PHA policies must comply with the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing, and in other housing-related transactions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and families with children.
PHAs could be violating fair housing laws if it refuses to rent to someone because of their criminal background without considering the nature and severity of the crime(s), how old the record is, and any rehabilitative efforts since the conviction.
1. Will the PHA reject me because I have a criminal record?
If the PHA asks about criminal convictions, you should be honest about any conviction and present any information about any individual circumstances (see # 6 below). The PHA may reject an application if they discover an applicant lied during the application process.
The PHA will reject your application if someone in the home has a:
- Conviction that subjects them to a lifetime registration requirement under a state sex offender registration program;
- Conviction for manufacturing methamphetamine in federally assisted housing;
- Eviction from federally assisted housing for drug-related criminal activity within the past 3 years UNLESS the person has completed an approved drug treatment program or circumstances have otherwise changed; or
- Credible allegation against them of currently using an illegal drug or the PHA has reasonable cause to believe the person’s use of an illegal drug may threaten the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of other residents.
The PHA might reject your application if someone in the home has a:
- Conviction for drug-related crimes;
- Conviction for violent crimes;
- Conviction for other crimes that could threaten the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of other residents or PHA employees;
- Pattern of alcohol abuse that may threaten the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of other residents;
- Conviction for fraud, bribery, or other offense in connection with a Federal program.
The PHA should:
- Look at convictions from the date of conviction (not the date of release from incarceration) to the projected date of admission.
- Have a written policy about eligibility criteria and criminal backgrounds. Some may be available online here.
2. What about arrests? Or if the conviction has been dismissed or expunged?
The PHA should not reject your rental application because of:
- An arrest or charge that was resolved without conviction;
- Expunged or sealed convictions.
If the PHA rejects your application because of a conviction without arrest or because of a conviction that was dismissed or expunged, contact the Fair Housing Project by clicking here.
3. What if the conviction is related to my disability?
The PHA should not reject your application because of a criminal background that is related to your physical or mental disability. Past substance abuse can be a disability if you are no longer using and have completed a recovery program.
If the criminal conviction is related to your disability, you should ask the PHA to consider a reasonable accommodation (or change) to its rules or policies. Click here for more information about protections under the Fair Housing Act for people with disabilities.
4. What about pending charges?
- If the pending charges are for an offense would not disqualify you from the housing even if you were convicted, the PHA should approve your application.
- If the pending charges are for an offense would disqualify you from the housing even if you were convicted, the PHA should delay their decision to deny the application. The PHA should wait until you present proof or documents showing the final court decision on the pending charges.
5. The PHA told me that I do not qualify. What can I do?
The PHA should send you a letter that explains why you are not eligible for housing. The letter should explain how to request reconsideration of or appeal the denial.
- The PHA should give you a copy of the criminal record they relied on to deny your application. You should check to see if the information in the record is accurate.
- Challenge the denial at an Informal Hearing/Review. Follow the instructions in the letter for how to request the hearing. Usually, you must submit a written request within 10 days from the date of the denial letter.
- The Informal Hearing is your chance to present your individual (or “mitigating”) circumstances or challenge the accuracy of the criminal record used by the PHA to deny your application. See # 6, below.
- If the PHA denies your application after the informal hearing/review, you have the right to appeal to a Hearing Officer. Follow the instructions from the PHA to submit your written request to appeal.
6. How do I present my individual circumstances?
You may have an opportunity to explain to the PHA that you will be a good tenant. The PHA should consider your individual circumstances, such as:
- the seriousness of the criminal offense
- whether the offense affects the safety and security of residents, staff or property
- the length of time since the offense
- your age at the time of the offense
- evidence of rehabilitation, such as having a job or participating in a job training program, education, participation in a drug or alcohol treatment program
Letters of support may be helpful. Letters could be from a parole or probation officer, employer, teacher, social worker, treatment program, current or prior landlord, or community leader. A PHA may not give much credit to letters from a friend or family member.
You could also show the PHA that you are or will be receiving support or other assistance from a non-profit organizations or government agency.
If you need help, contact the Fair Housing Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina by calling toll free at 1-855-797-3247. We may be able to help you understand and advocate for your fair housing rights. There is no charge for our services, and all calls are confidential.
- DOCUMENT every interaction you have with the housing provider. Include information about the property, addresses, dates, times, names of the people you speak with, and nature of the interaction.
- SAVE any applications, brochures, emails, texts, and any other documents related to the interaction.
- If you are denied because of your criminal history, ASK FOR A COPY of the background check they conducted. You are legally entitled to it.
The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported by funding under a grant (FEOI190031) with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The substance and findings of the work are dedicated to the public. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication. Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Government.