Limiting Tenant Background Screening to Your State Alone is Risky

Posted by Teresa on June 18, 2010 under Tenant Screening & Background Checks | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

employee-arrestThe U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling June 1 that could affect landlords whose tenant background checks are limited to the state they reside in.

Essentially, the Court ruled that a convicted sex offender did not have to register in the state he currently lives in because his conviction pre-dated the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), passed in 2006.

Background to the Decision
The case involved an Alabama man, Thomas Carr, who was arrested for a sex crime in 2003. Upon his release from prison in June 2004, he registered in Alabama as a sex offender. He moved to Indiana 5 months later, in December 2004, where he did not register with proper authorities. Two years later, he was arrested for violating the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA).

Carr’s lawyer argued that his client was not subject to the law because he moved to Indiana well before SORNA was passed by Congress and before the attorney general established a regulation retroactively applying the law to interstate travel by sex offenders.

Supreme Court Overrules Circuit Court Decision
A federal judge ruled that retroactive enforcement of the law did not violate the Constitution. Carr pled guilty and was sentenced to 30 months in prison. On appeal, the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his conviction. The Supreme Court reversed the Circuit Court’s decision, taking a narrower view of SORNA than the Obama administration’s.

According to the Court decision, the law as written by Congress did not authorize retroactive enforcement. Why not? Because Congress used the word “travels,” instead of “traveled,” when referring to offenders who move state to state.

What Does This Mean for Landlords?
If you typically screen tenant criminal backgrounds only the state you live, they could be hiding a criminal past—including for sex crimes. Running a criminal background check on Carr in Indiana, for example, would show no record.

Landlords, Be Safe with Thorough Tenant Screening
Whether landlords agree with the Supreme Court’s decision or not, the prudent solution is to make sure your tenant background screening is as thorough as possible. Peace of mind is priceless!