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Criminal Records and Your Rights

Produced by Paul Schack
Created May 2017

Massachusetts criminal court records are called "Criminal Offender Record Information" (CORI, pronounced COR'-EE).22 When a person is charged with a crime in a Massachusetts state or federal court, that person has a CORI. Even if the case is dismissed or if the person is found not guilty, there is still a CORI.

A CORI report includes the history of each criminal charge - all court proceedings - from arraignment to sentencing. They can be long. For example, even though there may be only one criminal incident, there may be a lot of entries or multiple charges on a CORI report.

One of the original purposes of the CORI law was to protect the privacy of people with criminal records so that people would have a chance to turn over a new leaf. In 2012, CORI laws were substantially changed in ways that have had a harmful impact on the privacy of former offenders who apply for rental housing. More people can get more access.

But in 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released important guidelines that prohibit landlords from automatically disqualifying anyone with a criminal record. Landlords need to assess each individual applicant.23

1. Who Can Get Access to Criminal Records

a. Access to CORI for Market Rate Housing

If you are applying to public or subsidized housing the CORI rules are different. See Criminal Background Checks in Finding Public and Subsidized Housing, Chapter 6: Tenant Screening.

Private landlords (whether individuals or organizations), property management companies with market-rate housing, and real estate agents have what is called "Standard" access to CORI to screen potential tenants. They must first have permission from the state’s Criminal History System’s Board. When a landlord with Standard access requests a CORI report, the report will include:24

  • Criminal cases still going on.25
  • Conviction for a misdemeanor when the conviction date or incarceration release date is less than 5 years prior to the CORI Request Date. (The CORI system will report the offense and all other convicted offenses.
  • Conviction for a felony when the conviction date or incarceration release date occurred less than 10 years prior to the CORI Request Date.
  • Convictions for murder, manslaughter or sex offense no matter how old.

The landlord must not get:

  • Any sealed cases,
  • Cases where there was no conviction,
  • Misdemeanor convictions more than 5 years old,
  • Felony convictions more than 10 years old,
  • Juvenile cases if a person younger than 17 years old and they were not convicted as an adult,
  • Civil cases, or
  • Non-incarcerable cases.

b. Access to CORI for Private Subsidized Housing

While landlords and property management companies renting to tenants with housing vouchers can only get Standard Access to CORI as outlined above, landlords and property management companies that manage multi-family subsidized housing have what is called "Required 1" CORI access. A CORI report for a Required 1 access will include all adult and youthful offender convictions regardless of date and all pending offenses.26

c. What If You Are Denied Housing

Before any landlord, property management company, or real estate agent can reject your housing application based on your CORI, it must:

  • Notify you that they plan to deny you housing,
  • Give you a copy of the CORI or tenant screening report with the CORI that they got,
  • Give you a copy of the landlord's CORI Policy, if applicable;27
  • Tell you what part of your CORI or background report is a problem,
  • Give you the opportunity to dispute the accuracy of the information contained in the CORI, and
  • Provide you with information about how to fix mistakes.28

A landlord can only request your CORI as the final step in the application process.29

Sometimes landlords authorize tenant screening agencies to decide whether to accept or reject a housing applicant. If the tenant screening agency is acting as the decision maker the agency has to follow the same CORI rules as landlords.30

If you have applied for subsidized housing through a property management company they must also provide information about how to challenge or appeal the denial of housing based on CORI.31 See Challenging a Denial at: denial.

2. What You Can Do to Protect Your Rights

a. Ask for a Meeting

A landlord, property management company, or real estate agency many check your CORI only if you sign a form that says you know they are requesting your CORI. This form is called a CORI Acknowledgment Form.

Sometimes a landlord will ask a person applying to rent to get a copy of her own CORI and bring it to the landlord. This is illegal. If a landlord asks you to get your own CORI, you should tell her that such a request is illegal, and that, if she wants access to your criminal record, she should request it from the state agency that has CORI. Landlord must be certified to access CORI.

If you feel that your rights have been violated, you can file a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General. A complaint form is available on their website Criminal Records - Know Your Rights: A Guide to Rights in Employment and Housing

If you know the landlord or property management company will do a criminal background check, ask them to review the CORI or background information with you so that you can discuss its accuracy and relevance. If you get a meeting and the CORI report accurately lists convictions of serious crimes, show how your recent activity indicates that the former criminal behavior will not recur.

b. Find Out If Someone Has Requested Your CORI

You can find out if someone has requested your CORI by sending a CORI Self-Audit request to:

ATTN: Self Audit
Massachusetts Department of Criminal Justice Information Services
200 Arlington Street, Suite 2200
Chelsea, MA 02150

You can get one free CORI self-audit every 90 days.

c. Get Your Own CORI

Because CORI reports may include inaccurate and misleading information you should get a copy of your own CORI before applying for housing. See Getting Your Own Records.

You may be able to have your CORI sealed. If you qualify for having your CORI sealed, landlords will not be able to access your CORI. For information on how to seal your CORI see cori sealing.

Sometimes CORI information is incorrect because someone else used your Social Security Number or has a name that is the same or similar to yours. You have a right to request that information in your CORI that is inaccurate, incomplete, or misleading be corrected if the court that created the information will not make the change.32

Note

If your CORI relates only to illegal drug possession (not illegal drug distribution), see the section called Discrimination Based on Disability  in Chapter 7:Discrimination.

d. Getting Your Own Records

Under the CORI law, if you are indigent, you may get a copy of your own CORI for free. But you must fill out and send in with your CORI Request Form a completed Affidavit of Indigency. See How do I get a copy of my CORI?

You can also request your own CORI from the online iCORI system at ICORI

You may give written permission for someone else, such as an attorney, other advocate, or family member, to get a copy of your CORI.

Endnotes

22 . See generally, G.L. c. 6, §§167-178.

23 . Office of General Counsel Guidance on Application of Fair Housing Act Standards to the Use of Criminal Records by Providers of Housing and Real Estate-Related Transactions (April 4, 2016).

24 . 803 C.M.R. §2.05(4).

25 . This includes criminal cases that are continued without a finding. 803 C.M.R. §2.05(4)(a)(1).

26 . 803 C.M.R. §2.05(3)(b)(1).

27 . “Any landlord, property management company, real estate agent, or public housing authority that annually conducts five or more criminal background investigations, whether CORI is obtained from DCJIS or any other source, shall maintain a written CORI policy, which must meet the minimum standards of the DCJIS model CORI policy.” 803 C.M.R. §5.07(1).

28 . 803 C.M.R. §5.15(1).

29 . 803 C.M.R. §5.04(2), § 5.05(3).

30 . 803 C.M.R. §11.12.

31 . 803 C.M.R. §5.15(2).

32 . G.L. c. 6, §175, 1st ¶, 2nd and subsequent sentences.

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