Drastic Consequences from Seemingly Minor Drug Offenses

The Fair Housing Act Often Protects Former Drug Users from Discrimination.

I write regularly about the Fair Housing Act and its consequences for real estate businesses that violate it.

Today’s post has an FHA component to it, but this time, the consequences are for prospective renters who have made seemingly minor legal offenses.

I learned recently about someone who is having a miserable time finding a place to rent in the greater Boise area.  By itself, that’s not unusual.  Boise has a very tight supply of rental housing.

This prospective renter is gainfully employed, has parents who are willing to guarantee he pays the rent, and is of generally good character.

The bad news is that he had previously plead guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.  The “with intent to distribute” part is having life-altering consequences for him.

Fair Housing Act Exception for Manufacture or Distribution of Marijuana

A former drug user who is in rehab can be considered “Disabled” and is then protected by the Fair Housing Act. The FHA protects persons with disabilities from discrimination.

The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (read: Federal) has a huge exception to the above protections. Here is an excerpt from a guidance letter written by HUD’s General Counsel re: use of criminal records to deny housing to applicants.

“Nothing in (this statute) prohibits conduct against a person because such person has been convicted by any court of competent jurisdiction of the illegal manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance as defined in (this statute).”

Landlords have uniformly turned away this young person, citing the guilty plea as the reason.


A conviction for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute means landlords can refuse to rent no matter how seemingly minor the offense.

Lack of access to housing makes it hard for good employees to show up for work.  In today’s tight labor market, this hurts more businesses than many of us recognize.

If you are in a position to share a “word to the wise” with anyone considering the use of a federally-controlled substance such as marijuana, please do so.

Michael Oswald



Please note: the above post contains educational information. It is not intended as legal advice. Engage an attorney who is licensed in your state to get advice on dealing with any specific legal issue.

© 2019 Michael S. Oswald

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