Generally speaking, in determining eligibility for public housing, including Section 8 housing and other forms of federally assisted housing, federal law gives local public housing agencies liberal discretion to deny housing to individuals with criminal backgrounds. (Housing Opportunity Program Extension Act - P.L. 104-120). Landlords are allowed to screen and deny housing to someone based on a past criminal conviction if the crime was physical or violent nature against either person or property. If you were denied housing because of race, color, the country you come from, or the language you speak you may have an issue of discrimination under the fair housing act.
This is from the King County Office of Civil Rights (Department of Executive Services)
“Having a criminal record is not a protected class under fair housing laws; therefore, housing providers may establish screening criteria that rejects an applicant who has a criminal record. Convictions should not be confused with arrests, however. Patterns of arrest have been proven to be discriminatory against protected classes in some contexts, and as such, may be inappropriate to use as a screening criteria.
If an applicant's criminal record is related to his or her disability, then the applicant may request that the housing provider make a reasonable accommodation by allowing the applicant to establish that he or she has successfully taken steps to assure that the criminal conduct caused by the disability will not recur. For example, an applicant who has completed a drug-addiction recovery program may request that you waive your criminal record policy for a conviction for possession of an illegal substance.
In addition, if you conduct criminal background checks, it would be considered discriminatory to do such checks only on certain applicants or to accept only some applicants with criminal records. For example, a housing provider should not conduct criminal checks only on African American males, or accept a female applicant with a record of assault but not a male applicant with a similar conviction. The key is to ensure that the process is fair and neither directly nor indirectly discriminates based on any protected classes.”
Some time ago the Human Rights Watch published a 101 page document that explored this issue, however, little has been done in response.
Child custody Protections of the Fair Housing Act for tenants Real estate Criminal defense Criminal charges for assault and battery Criminal arrest Criminal conviction Criminal record Employment Discrimination in the workplace Disability discrimination in the workplace Reasonable accommodation of employees Employment background check Civil rights Disability discrimination Discrimination