Criminal History and the Reasonable Accommodation Request


It is a violation of the Fair Housing laws to refuse a “reasonable accommodation request” made by someone with a disability, someone who formerly had a disability, or someone perceived as having a disability.

A reasonable accommodation request is a request to change the rules.  Most of us know this in the context of someone requesting the presence of a service animal or assistance animal despite “no pets” policies.  It can also arise when someone requests a change in the landlord’s credit and background criteria. The applicant will state that the prior blemishes were the result of a disability, and should now be disregarded.  Usually  we see this when a person’s psychological problems resulted in criminal convictions, but medication now eliminates such issues.

Some groups claim prior drug or alcohol abuse also qualifies as a disability. They advocate use of a Reasonable Accommodation Request, such as outlined in the letter below.

At the time of the behavior that gave rise to the criminal history, the tenant applicant below was not disabled, I think.  According to HUD, abuse of alcohol or illegal drugs are not legally protected disabilities. On the other hand, it is difficult for people to continue rehabilitation efforts if they cannot find decent housing. I understand, and am sympathetic.

The sample letter reprinted below is from TenantsUnion.org.  Please discuss with your attorney what response to make if you receive a letter such as the following:

“Sample Letter: Housing Denial for Criminal History

Name Address Date Landlord Name Landlord Address

Dear Landlord:

I was recently informed that you denied me housing. I am requesting that you provide me with a reasonable accommodation as a person with a disability by re-considering my application for housing and by waiving any application criterion excluding persons with felony convictions. This request is necessary to afford me the opportunity to use and enjoy your subsidized housing programs. I was convicted of a drug-related felony in 2008. I am a person with a disability as defined by federal and state law. The conduct that led to my conviction occurred while I was under the influence of illegal substances, was a direct manifestation of my disability, and resulted from my inability at that time to manage the symptoms of my disability. The disability-related behaviors that led to the conviction have been, and are being, addressed. I successfully completed in-patient treatment through the Recovery Center of King County. Moreover, the conviction is not predictive of my willingness and ability to pay my rent, be a good neighbor, and care for the rental premises. I currently receive case management services from __________ and __________. I can establish that I am willing and able to pay my rent, be a good neighbor, and care for the rental premises. The following references can verify my recovery and my disability, attest to my character and my willingness and ability to pay my rent and be a good tenant and neighbor:

REFERENCE 1 REFERENCE 2

Please respond to my request in writing within ten days of the date of this letter.

Thank you

Signature”