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Proposed Legislation in Pennsylvania to Restrict Landlord Inquiries into Criminal Background

November 18, 2016 Posted in Landlord/Tenant Law

It is common practice for some landlords to conduct credit checks and criminal history checks for new applicants.  While credit checks have remained fairly free from criticism, criminal background checks have received scrutiny from some courts, government agencies, and legislators. 

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has stated that criminal background checks may have a disparate impact on individuals of a protected class, and therefore may potentially be unlawful under the Fair Housing Act.  Additionally, in some states, lawmakers have begun to debate whether laws should be passed to restrict the scope of a landlord’s inquiries into an applicant’s criminal record on the basis that the inability of those with criminal records to obtain housing contributes to recidivism. 

Recently, a bill was introduced into the General Assembly of Pennsylvania which, if passed, would prohibit Pennsylvania landlords from asking certain questions about a tenant’s criminal background.

In the House Co-Sponsorship Memoranda related to the bill, Representative Donna Bullock wrote:

“In the near future, I plan to introduce legislation that would prohibit landlords from asking certain questions about a tenant’s criminal background, unless it is in regards to felony or misdemeanor conviction.

Too often, individuals who have criminal histories, and have turned a new leaf, find it difficult to find adequate housing. As a basic right, and a condition of successful recovery, access to housing should not be based on one’s prior violations or indiscretions. Recently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has provided guidance to Section 8 housing owners, that criminal records will no longer be a condition of approval for public housing.

Our neighbor Ohio, has had success with programs aimed at assisting those with arrest histories. The nationwide recidivism rate is 49.7%, Ohio’s is 27.5%. My proposal is a modest pivot toward changing how the Commonwealth rehabilitates those with arrest histories.

I respectfully ask that you join me in my effort to guarantee that no Pennsylvanian is denied shelter for past mistakes. If you have any questions, please contact my Research Analyst -- Takesha Latham at 717-787-3480 or via email at”

The lesson to be learned from what appears to be a shift in trends is that, given the current atmosphere, a policy of automatically denying any applicant with a criminal record that does not take into consideration factors such as the amount of time that has passed and the nature of the crime may not be wise for many landlords. 

For more information about the proposed Pennsylvania legislation, including the full text of the bill, click on the link below:

 Pennsylvania General Assembly Website


The information in this Client Alert is provided solely for information purposes. It should not be construed as legal advice on any specific matter and is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. The information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based upon particular circumstances.  Each legal matter is unique, and prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.


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