New federal fair housing guidance announced Monday advises that landlords cannot arbitrarily deny housing to persons with an arrest record or criminal record who has served their time in prison.

Under the new fair housing guidance, landlords have to be "thoughtful" when using criminal background checks, according to Amy Glassman, an attorney at Ballard Spahr in Washington.

"You can't just use arrest records, you have to look at actual convictions," she said in an interview.

Landlords should look for the kinds of convictions that might indicate the applicant would not be a good tenant, such as drug-related crimes or prostitution convictions.

"You can look at certain kinds of convictions that are indicative of the likelihood of destroying property, disturbing the peace or certain kinds of violent crimes," Glassman said, "but you also need to look at the severity of the crimes and how long ago they occurred."

Glassman also pointed out that landlords have to consider when the conviction occurred and whether the applicant might be a good tenant now.

"Landlords need to look at whether an applicant can show mitigating factors that show that the behavior that led to the conviction is not likely to be repeated. Drug treatment, for example, might be a mitigating factor for drug offenses," Glassman said.