If you are living in a rental but want to add a felon to your lease, you may be worried about whether your landlord will allow it and if it’s even permitted.
It’s a legitimate concern and one that pops up more often than you might think. After all, the felon could be a family member, spouse, romantic partner, or friend and there are plenty of instances where someone would want to co-habit a place with them.
In this article, I am going to cover the question of whether you can add a felon (or anyone with a significant criminal background) to your lease and some of the key legal and practical considerations that go into answering this question.
I will also discuss some tips and strategies you can use to persuade your landlord to give your proposed co-tenant a chance.
If you don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:
You can add a felon to your lease so long as your landlord approves the addition. In most cases, the landlord will make their decision based on their standard screening process, but it is worth noting that under the Fair Housing Act, a landlord cannot have a blanket rejection policy just because someone has a criminal record.
We’ll get more into all of that later, of course. Let’s get started!
The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice. You should seek the advice of a qualified legal professional before making any decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.
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What is a Felon?
As a preliminary matter, it is important to understand who qualifies as a felon.
Although there is no set definition, a felon is typically someone who has been convicted of a crime that carries a sentence of more than one year in jail.
Some common examples of felonies include the following:
- Rape or Sexual Assault
- Aggravated Assault
- Drug Trafficking
- Grand Theft
Can a Landlord Reject a Felon’s Rental?
As general matter, a landlord can reject you for having a felony on your record.
However, in 2016, the HUD provided guidance on the Fair Housing Act (which is the main federal law prohibiting discrimination in housing). That guidance required that landlords must not have a blanket policy rejecting applicants with a criminal record because such a policy can have a disparate impact on certain minorities.
They clarified that merely being arrested would not be a valid ground for rejecting an applicant. The rejection must be based on a criminal conviction.
They then went on to explain that some of the factors to consider include the nature and severity of the offense, how much time has passed since the offense, and what the applicant has done since that time.
One of the key things to analyze is whether the applicant would pose a risk to the safety of people or property.
Let’s take an example.
A landlord will likely be much more likely to reject an applicant who was recently convicted of aggravated assault of a neighbor (and who has a violent history in general) vs. an applicant who was convicted of a felony drunk driving offense 10 years ago and has no history of violence, theft or property damage.
The bottom line is that a landlord shouldn’t reject you arbitrarily simply because you have a record. They must go through the factors above and analyze the facts and circumstances of your situation.
Of course, it is worth noting that state and local laws may also have rules and requirements around this issue, so it is worth familiarizing yourself with the applicable laws in your area.
Now I get that all of this can be pretty confusing, so hiring a lawyer may be your best bet.
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Does a Landlord Have to Even Consider Adding a New Applicant?
In most jurisdictions, you cannot force a landlord to add someone to the lease. So if they are not interested in adding someone to the lease (whether they are a felon or not), you cannot require that they do so.
However, if they are willing to consider the application, then, obviously, they should follow their standard screening process and comply with the law (including the Fair Housing Act, as described above).
Tips to Convince My Landlord to Accept the Application
If your landlord is worried about accepting a felon into the rental, here are some tips you can use to swing the odds in your favor.
- Find a private landlord instead of a large property management company. In most cases, individual landlords will be less jaded and more willing to negotiate.
- Be upfront. As mentioned, most landlords will run a background check on the applicant, so let the landlord know in advance and use that opportunity to give the story and details that you want to highlight. It will be much harder to convince them after they find out on their own.
- Offer financial incentives. Landlords are essentially operating a business, so if you are willing to sweeten the pot, that can go a long way. This can include a bump in rent, a higher security deposit, and any other creative incentives you can think of that would benefit your landlord.
- Make sure your landlord understands the rules in your state. If they are initially inclined to reject the applicant, you can politely remind them of any state or federal rules that may require them to give the applicant fair consideration. Again, hiring a lawyer to lay this out for you is a good idea.
- Put your best foot forward. As with all things, you want to let your landlord know that the applicant has rehabilitated from their past mistakes. If you have a clean record since the conviction and have had no incidents for years, that is a powerful fact. If you have great references from your employers, that’s also a major plus.
So there you have it – a detailed look at whether you can add a felon to your lease and some of the key considerations involved. Hope this has been helpful and happy renting!