Having a criminal record can make getting an apartment incredibly tough. Most landlords are hesitant to even accept applications from someone who has a record.
But what if your crime is not serious and only rises to the level of a misdemeanor? Can a landlord reject you even for such a relatively minor offense?
In this article, I am going to answer this question. I will lay out the legal landscape around this issue and discuss key laws and principles. I’ll also provide some tips on how you can maximize your chances of getting approved even if you have a misdemeanor on your record.
If you don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:
A landlord may reject an applicant due to a misdemeanor on their record, however, under the Fair Housing Act, the landlord cannot have a blanket policy to reject applicants based on their criminal record. An individual assessment of each applicant’s criminal history is required.
Ok, let’s get into it.
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 Misdemeanor?
In order to understand the implications of having a misdemeanor on your record when applying for housing, we need to clearly define what a misdemeanor is.
In short, misdemeanors are crimes that are usually punishable by less than 12 months in jail. They are less serious than felonies and therefore carry less severe punishments.
Typically, you are sentenced to either a relatively short time in jail or you may be placed on probation, required to perform community service, or pay a fine for the offense. Source.
Common examples of misdemeanors include the following:
- Disorderly conduct
- Minor drug offenses (such as possession)
- Petty theft
- Drunk driving
- Simple assault
- Minor sex crimes, such as solicitation, indecent exposure, prostitution, etc.
- Public intoxication
Can an Apartment Reject You for Misdemeanors?
The Fair Housing Act
As a general matter, an apartment can reject you for having a misdemeanor on your record.
However, the HUD provided guidance in 2016 relating to the Fair Housing Act (which is the key federal law prohibiting discrimination in housing) stating 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.
First, it’s worth noting that, under the 2016 guidance, merely being arrested would not be a valid ground for rejecting an applicant. Convictions are what matter.
If an applicant has a conviction, 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 domestic violence (and who has a violent history in general) vs. an applicant who was convicted of a misdemeanor traffic 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.
State and Local Laws
One final area to look at is state and local laws.
While the FHA applies broadly to landlords because it is a federal law, various states and localities may also have rules around when a landlord can reject an applicant based on their past criminal history.
Unfortunately, differing standards adopted by different jurisdictions can sometimes muddy the waters.
So it is worth familiarizing yourself with your state and local laws to understand the full picture. You can start by reviewing your state’s landlord tenant laws or you can ask a lawyer to help you navigate these sometimes complicated issues.
For your convenience, here’s our 50 state reference table (including D.C.) that will link you to the official landlord tenant laws of your state.
If you prefer to have a lawyer assist you, I would try JustAnswer. They boast access to thousands of highly-rated, verified real estate lawyers whom you can connect with via their unlimited chat service.
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How to Get an Apartment If You Have Misdemeanors
Ok, so you have a criminal record and maybe it’s just a misdemeanor.
What can you do to place yourself in the best light and get approved for a rental? The good news is that there are a number of solid strategies you can use to improve your chances for getting that coveted rental. Let’s get into them.
Many people are tempted to hide their criminal record during the application process.
Now this may work in some circumstances if the landlord is not paying attention or their screening methods are not effective. However, most apartment complexes are run by professional property management companies and their screening processes are designed to uncover each applicant’s criminal history.
So coming clean upfront may be a better approach because the landlord or property manager will see that you are honest about the situation and are not trying to hide it.
It also gives you an opportunity to explain the circumstances around the misdemeanor and put yourself in the most favorable light before the landlord has discovered the issue for himself.
It’s basic human psychology – the landlord will be surprised and suspicious that you didn’t mention it and it will make it that much harder to get them to be receptive when you try to explain things after the fact.
Try to Find Landlords Who Are Mom and Pop Operators
Big property management companies are tough to deal with and there is usually very little sympathy coming from them. They are probably processing hundreds of applicants each month and have seen criminal records countless times.
However, a mom and pop operator may only be processing applications on a sporadic basis and won’t be as jaded. They may be much more understanding with regard to your situation.
Make Other Parts of Your Applicant Strong
While having a misdemeanor on your record can be a tough challenge to overcome, it does not mean there is no hope.
You may be able to make up for it with other factors, such as a strong credit score, good and reliable income, a solid rental history, and great references (especially from past rentals).
Offer to Pay More
Obviously, one way to sweeten the pot for a hesitant landlord is to offer to pay a higher rent. Other options include providing a higher security deposit, signing up for a longer lease term, or offering to fix items instead of calling the landlord (if you are handy) .
In short, make yourself stand out from the competition and you may be able to land that rental even if you have a misdemeanor.
Find a Rental That Has Been on the Market For a While
If you go online to places like zillow.com, they will show how long a property has been on the rental market.
Properties that have been on the market for multiple months can be prime targets for you.
After all, they are losing money everyday that the property sits vacant and you could be the answer to their prayer!
So there you have it – a detailed look at whether a landlord can reject you for having a misdemeanor and some tips you can use to help you get approved for a rental. Hope this has been helpful and happy renting!