COACH's Pop Quiz!

Q: A criminal records check reveals that a rental applicant was arrested on rape charges twice, once in 1997 and again in 2009. Do you have legitimate, nondiscriminatory grounds to reject his application?

a. No, because the arrests happened more than seven years ago.

b. Yes, because arrests for sexual assault are grounds to reject regardless of how long ago they happened.

c. No, because you don’t know if the applicant was actually convicted.


A: The correct answer is c.

The applicant in this scenario wasn’t convicted but arrested for rape. And an arrest record alone isn’t enough to exclude an applicant regardless of how serious the crime for which he was arrested was. Failure to differentiate between arrests and convictions is one of the most common mistakes that owners and leasing agents make.

Wrong answers explained:

a. Sexual assaults are, in fact, among the kinds of offenses most likely to justify a decision not to rent to an applicant. But there are two problems with this answer: (1) the seven-year window that applies to other felonies doesn’t apply to sexual assaults; and (2) more importantly, the applicant in this case was only arrested but not convicted of rape.

b. The part of the answer stating that sexual assault convictions don’t have a shelf life is true; but again, the reason the answer is wrong is that the applicant wasn’t convicted.

For eight rules you can follow for avoiding discrimination when screening applicants’ criminal backgrounds, see our February lesson, “How to Perform Criminal Records Checks Without Committing Discrimination,” available to subscribers here.