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Fair Housing Act Allows Discrimination Against Drug Offenders

The Federal Fair Housing Act, passed in 1968 to prevent housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, and national origin, does nothing to stop landlords from discriminating against people with criminal records, such as past drug convictions, the Bay City Times reported Aug. 29.

According to the Fair Housing Act, "Nothing requires that a dwelling be made available to an individual whose tenancy would constitute a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals or whose tenancy would result in substantial physical damage to the property of others."

It is because of that part of the law that Chris Parsons, past president of the Bay Area Landlord and Business Owners Association in Michigan, has denied housing to individuals with criminal records.

Most landlords conduct criminal background checks and review local court records before renting to an applicant. "If you've got someone who's been arrested on several operating under the influence of liquor charges, that's a pretty good indication they have a substance-abuse problem and that can directly affect other renters," said Douglas Rise, director of the Bay City Housing Commission.

Rise added that people who feel they have been unfairly denied housing may opt for an appeal process. If the person can prove to the Housing Commission that they have been through a drug treatment program and have resolved past drinking or drug problems, they could be allowed to rent. The Fair Housing Act protects recovering alcohol and other drug addicts who have been through treatment.

"People change. They have a right to change. If they're in recovery I don't have a problem," said Margaret Felan, 52, a resident of Maloney Manor. "But I wouldn't want a dealer in here. I'd want them taken out."

Jeanne Delgado, vice president of property management for the National Multi Housing Council, said the courts have sided with landlords who say that they have a responsibility to keep their premises and their renters safe.

According to Delgado, landlords are within the law when they refuse to rent to people who are users of controlled substances, have been convicted of illegal manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance, or are sex offenders.

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