Federal and state laws permit landlords and property managers to refuse to rent to people who have been convicted of a crime. Doing advance research into building policies and disclosing your background to landlords and property managers before submitting an application significantly improve your chances of finding a place to live.
Housing Discrimination Against Felons
Landlords and property managers are free under state and federal law to reject rental applications on the basis of an applicant's criminal background. Many public housing agencies also restrict rentals to people with criminal records, though some will consider your application if a significant period of time has passed since your conviction. Federal law requires public housing authorities to reject new housing applications from individuals who are on a lifetime sex offenders list, as well as applicants who were convicted of producing methamphetamine on public housing property.
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Tenant Background Screenings
Many landlords and property managers run criminal background checks on potential tenants, so expect that the landlord or property manager will find out about your background. Research property management company policies online before applying for an apartment. If you know that you'll be asked to consent to a background check, disclose your conviction before applying. If your record makes you ineligible for a lease, you'll save time and the application fee.
The Disability Exception
It's against federal housing law to discriminate against people with disabilities. If your crime was connected to your substance abuse or a mental illness, you may be protected from housing discrimination. For example, if you were convicted for disturbing the peace as a result of mental health issues, you may be able to invoke the Americans with Disabilities Act and prevent a landlord from turning down your rental application solely because of your criminal record. Contact a disability rights lawyer, or Legal Aid, to discuss your case and how to best work with landlords on this issue.
Housing for Registered Sex Offenders
Laws in some areas prohibit registered sex offenders from living in locations close to where children spend a lot of time, such as schools, daycare centers and parks. While there have been some court challenges to these laws, the laws are still enforced in many areas. Landlords and property managers in these neighborhoods cannot legally approve the applications of felons who are also sex offenders.
Other Home Search Strategies
Take steps to assure landlords that you are responsible and won't create problems in your new home. Get references from employers, former landlords, clergy and respected community members. Another option is asking the landlord if he will consider a co-signer on your lease, which provides the landlord with additional financial security. You can also expunge your criminal record. State laws vary on this process, but it may be possible to have your records sealed by the courts so that they don't show up on background checks.
- Nolo: Can I be Refused an Apartment Because of My Criminal Record?
- Apartment Ratings: Does a Criminal Record Prevent You From Leasing an Apartment?
- Nolo: Expunging or Sealing an Adult Criminal Record
- Path: Housing Series: Finding Housing for People With Criminal Histories
- Tenants Union of Washington State: Tenant Screening
- MassLegalHelp.org: Common Forms of Housing Discrimination
- Tenant Resource Center: Renting With a Criminal Conviction or Arrest Record
- Realtor.com: Will Past Arrest Keep Me From Getting an Apartment?
- Illinois Legal Aid: How to Pick a Good Tenant: What You Can Ask Applicants
- Preston Gardens: Tenant Requirements
- Privacy Rights Clearinghouse: General Tips for Renters
- Lawyers.com: Must I Rent to a Sex Offender?
- Legal Action Center: How to Get Section 8 or Public Housing Even With a Criminal Record
- The Bronx Defenders: Know Your Rights: Housing and Arrests or Criminal Convictions