Housing is a Human Right: Q+A with Jess Zaccagnino

Housing is a basic human right. Everyone – regardless of our race, where we’re born, our gender, whether we have a disability, whether we are living with a record of arrest or conviction – should have access to safe, affordable, and stable housing. That’s why, this session, the ACLU of Connecticut is working hard to advance H.B. 5242, an Act Concerning the Collateral Consequences of Criminal Records on Housing.

In order to better understand how this bill helps people to get access to housing, digital content strategist Rachel Moon sat down with Jess Zaccagnino, our policy counsel, to discuss what exactly this bill does.

Jess, policy counsel, sits in front of the housing committee testifying in support of HB5242 with Smart Justice leaders behind her.

RM: Hi Jess! Thanks for agreeing to sit down with me and talk more about H.B. 5242.

JZ: Yeah, of course! This bill does a lot to help people with housing access, so I think it’s great that we’re sitting down and flushing out the bill a bit more.

RM: Before getting into the bill itself, can you tell us why this bill is so important for Connecticut residents?

JZ: Well, first and foremost, we are all safer, stronger, and better as a community when we all have access to housing. This legislation would provide people with a fair chance at housing so that they can grow and thrive within their communities. When people who are living with a record are given a fair chance to find housing, earn a job, get insurance, and reintegrate into society, we all succeed.

A person’s record of arrest or conviction does not indicate whether that person will be a good tenant, pay their rent on time, and be a good neighbor – all things a housing provider should be focused on when deciding who to rent their property to. When people are applying for housing, they should be evaluated as individual people.

RM: Absolutely. So, with that in mind, let’s dig into the bill. First, can you give us a brief overview of what this bill does?

JZ: Like I said, H.B. 5242 does a lot to help people with access to housing. I think there are four overarching things that the bill does that we should focus on.

One, it establishes a lookback period that landlords can consider when looking at an applicant’s criminal record. So, that includes felony convictions from the past three years, or felony convictions if the person was released from incarceration in the past year.

Two, if landlords are concerned about an applicant’s record, it requires landlords to give the applicant an opportunity to explain their individualized circumstances and why the conviction shouldn’t be used as a basis to deny them housing.

Three, it bans certain practices used to discriminate against people living with a record, like advertising rentals with limitations based on a criminal history.

And, four, it also allows applicants to file and seek relief from the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, or the CHRO, if they are facing discrimination from landlords based on their criminal history. I also want to note that this bill does not apply to landlords who are renting a room in their own house or units of four or fewer.

Smart Justice leader Leslie C testifying before legislators in support of HB 5242 with fellow Smart Justice leaders right behind her.

RM: I heard you mention a lookback period that landlords can consider when reviewing applicants who are living with a record. What does that process look like?

JZ: Yeah, so this process prevents housing providers from using blanket housing denials based on criminal history within, you know, the limits of federal law. So, the bill doesn’t entirely prevent landlords from considering a person’s criminal record for felony convictions in the past three years, and felony convictions if a person was just released from incarceration in the past year if the period of incarceration was for three or more years. What the bill does is provide an outline for an individualized assessment for housing providers to follow before they may deny an applicant because of a criminal conviction.

RM: And where will the outline for the individualized assessment come from?

JZ: The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, CHRO like I mentioned earlier, is charged with creating materials and guides for landlords on how to move through the individualized assessment. This will help landlords have a more holistic understanding of the whole applicant as a tenant.

RM: What do you mean by that?

JZ: Well, this is a good tool for landlords; it will allow them to have more information to make better-informed decisions on who will be renting their property.

RM: Oh, I see. Now, I know that there’s a process that landlords would need to follow when denying a housing applicant specifically because of a criminal conviction. Can you walk us through what that process looks like?

JZ: So, in this case, if the housing provider finds that the applicant has a conviction that falls within the lookback period, the housing provider would have to notify the applicant and give them five days to present information about the conviction showing why they would be a good tenant and why the conviction should not be used to deny them housing. This information can include  things such as the nature and severity of the crime, if there’s a relationship between the crime and prospective tenancy, information about the applicant’s rehabilitation, the time since the conviction, their employment status, tenant history, their good character, evidence that the offense is unlikely to occur, and anything else they want the landlord to consider. The housing provider then has to take this information into account in reaching their decision.

RM: Well, I’m glad we were able to sit down and go through the bill a little more. I think this will help a lot of folks get a much better understanding of how this bill can help people living with a record get a fairer chance at access to housing.

Six Smart Justice leaders sit in the senate room smiling at the camera.
JZ: Absolutely, H.B. 5242 is all about giving people a chance at a chance. Instead of enabling and empowering people living with records, the current Connecticut law makes life much harder for them, but the evidence shows that when people who are living with a criminal record are given a fair chance to find housing, earn a job, and reintegrate into society, we are all safer, stronger, and better as a community.


If you’d like to learn more about H.B. 5242, an Act Concerning the Collateral Consequences of Criminal Records on Housing, visit https://www.acluct.org/en/legislation/collateral-consequences-housing

If you’d like to read the bill language of H.B. 5242, visit https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/cgabillstatus/cgabillstatus.asp?selBillType=Bill&bill_num=HB05242&which_year=2024.