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Detroit Bans the Box for Landlords

By Michael Klazema on 3/28/2019

Across the country, addressing the problem of recidivism has proven to be a major challenge. While some changes have focused on the prison system, many more attempt to create a better environment for individuals returning to society after completing a prison sentence. "Banning the box" is one such effort focused on employment applications, which frequently contain a box for an applicant to tick off if he or she has a criminal past. To many advocates of criminal justice reform, these policies create an unreasonably difficult environment for ex-convicts, especially felons, to find work. The result, they contend, is a faster return to crime—and prison.

Banning the box usually requires employers to evaluate a candidate on his or her merits before looking into criminal history through a background check, such as the US OneSEARCH provided by backgroundchecks.com. In mid-February, the city of Detroit banned the box for landlords. The goal: to improve access to housing and streamline a former prisoner's transition back into society. 

According to a report by Michigan Radio, the new rules have the support of the city's mayor, and the council granted unanimous approval. Now, as with employment, landlords must wait until they have deemed an applicant suitable as a tenant before conducting a background check. The goal is to encourage property owners to keep a more open mind about those to whom they rent. The rules currently apply only to those who operate five or more rentals in the city.

Landlords will not face requirements to rent to applicants with criminal records, as the new law spells out a variety of exceptions that are grounds for denial. These include serving prison time within the last five years, a felony committed up to a decade ago, and a litany of specific crimes, including violent and serious sexual offenses. 

Applicants may submit proof of their rehabilitation and contest any denials. The Detroit Department of Civil Rights, Inclusion and Opportunity has the final say in such disputes. 

While cities such as Detroit seek to expand protections for tenants, not all locales are eager to adopt these measures. 

According to the Arkansas Times, an ongoing dispute in that state's legislature concerns a bill granting tenants the right to "habitable housing" — a right already guaranteed in all other states. That bill remains in limbo as state representatives clash with each other and a major realtors association in the state.

As Detroit and other cities pass legislation to reduce recidivism, property managers may need to re-evaluate their vetting procedures. backgroundchecks.com serves up a variety of products for uncovering criminal history information that can prove useful to landlords in the final stages of evaluating rental applications. These include the US OneSEARCH and credit checks. The right tools can help landlords and business owners to successfully navigate evolving background check rules and procedures in any state. 


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