2021 | Bethesda Beat

Council approves protections against rental housing discrimination

Legislation prohibits certain inquiries into applicants’ criminal histories

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Montgomery County landlords and rental companies will no longer be able to request certain information regarding criminal histories of applicants. They also will be prohibited from taking specific arrests and convictions into consideration when considering a rental application.

The council unanimously approved those protections, and others, on Tuesday in a new Housing Justice Act.

The legislation:
● Prohibits a landlord from raising the rent under certain circumstances
● Requires a rental application to contain certain information about record checks conducted by a housing provider
● Prohibits certain inquiries regarding criminal histories in rental housing applications
● Prohibits consideration of certain arrests and convictions in rental housing decisions
● Amends the law regarding discrimination in housing and landlord-tenant affairs

The criminal histories that cannot be required to be disclosed or revealed through records checks include trespassing, theft as a misdemeanor, indecent exposure, public urination, and open container violations. It also includes possession of marijuana as a misdemeanor or civil violation, among others.

Landlords may inquire into arrest or convictions records for sex crimes, and check if an applicant is listed on a sex offender registry. They can base rental decisions on those records.

Council Member Evan Glass, a co-lead sponsor of the bill, said at the meeting on Tuesday that the bill deals with survival and victimless crimes.

“Nobody should be denied access to housing because they couldn’t afford to pay a traffic ticket. No one should be denied housing because they didn’t have access to a bathroom while they were experiencing homelessness,” he said. “Yes, these are actual examples of what is happening in the community.”

Council Member Sidney Katz, another co-lead sponsor, said homeless people in the county, who are disproportionately people of color, often face discriminatory housing practices rooted in systemic racism.

“It sounds awfully simplistic, but if we want to end homelessness, we have to find a home for people and that’s what this will help do,” he said.

Council Member Will Jawando said the Housing Justice Act also tackles the high rate of housing instability and homelessness among people returning from incarceration.

It also tackles discrimination that is a main barrier for people to get back on their feet, he said.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.