If you are a felon, then finding a job and an apartment to live in are two of the most challenging things after being released. Finding an apartment is as essential as getting a job as it helps you gain stability in your life and to re-enter into the society.
Finding an apartment is hard but if you are a felon then things get a little more difficult. The main reason is that people find it difficult to trust felons and often felons struggle with their finances.
So, landlords are skeptical about getting their rent on time and are also worried that a tenant with criminal history might create trouble in the neighborhood or cause damage to the property.
By law, landlords can run a background check on potential tenants. They can reject tenant applications based on the criminal history, eviction history, and bad credit records.
There are third party tenant screening services that can run extensive background checks on applicants.
44% landlords will not overlook a criminal history – According to a SmartMove survey
Source: TransUnion SmartMove
How to find apartments that accept felons?
Finding a rental house or apartment can be challenging for a felon. Rules that apply for others might not work for you because of your felony record. There are certain places where the situation might be more favorable towards you. You can keep the following points in mind while looking for an apartment –
- Re-entry Programs
Every state in the United States has re-entry programs for felons. There are organizations with re-entry programs that assist felons following their incarceration so that they can successfully settle back in normal society.
These programs include job assistance, housing assistance as well as educational programs. You can contact these organizations as they might be able to help you out.
- Public housing Authorities
The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) addresses housing needs of people belonging to low income groups. You must contact your local HA to check if any housing options are available. Even if it is not immediately available, you can still get on the waiting list.
Subletting is renting a part of the property which is already rented out to someone (primary/original tenant). Certain lease agreements allow subletting of property by the primary tenant.
In case of sublet property, the rental agreement is signed between the primary tenant and sub tenant. The primary tenant may not be very stringent with the rules and may not run a background check.
The downside is that this is only a temporary solution that can support you for a while. You can find such sublet properties on property listing sites as well as on Craigslist.
- Rental Sites
Searching on apartment listing sites is a good way to start hunting for an apartment. Many popular sites have filters and identifiers that will help you find apartments that are felon friendly. You can also find sublet properties as well as temporary accommodations.
Some of the popular apartment listing sites are
Prefer small houses instead of large buildings
Try to find a small individual house or apartment instead of searching for rentals in large buildings as they are usually managed by property management companies.
Property management companies run thorough background checks on tenants before renting out the property. In most cases, they will reject applicants who have bad credit or criminal records.
Individual landlords may be more flexible and understand your situation. Having a face-to-face conversation with the landlord will give you an opportunity to explain your felony.
You might be able to convince the landlord that you have reformed and are not the same person anymore.
It is better to be honest and disclose your felony records as you will be able to explain the circumstances. Also, if the landlord decides to run a background check later and your records show up, he might feel that you were being deceptive.
- Through Family and Friends
You can check if any of your family members or friends want to let out their property. Compared to a total stranger, a friend will be more supportive and understanding towards your situation. They may overlook your criminal record and help you for the person you are.
- Getting your lease signed by your spouse/partner
Have your spouse or partner sign the lease instead of you. This will increase your chances of getting the property as in this case your felony record will not matter anymore. Any background checks run by the landlord will be on your spouse or partner and not on you.
- Don’t just search for “Apartments”
Widen you search criteria when searching on property websites. Searching listings for “rooms”, “shared/temporary” along with “apartment” will get you more results.
What do landlords want?
Landlords usually have these concerns while letting out their property
- Getting rental payments on time.
- Tenants that maintain and keep the property clean without causing any damage which may cost major repair expenses to the landlord.
- Tenants that do not involve in any illegal activities like consuming drugs inside the property.
- Maintains harmony with the neighbours and does not cause any trouble for others.
59% landlords believe that a steady income is more important than credit history – According to a SmartMove survey
Source: TransUnion SmartMove
Felon friendly housing search tips
- Get felony sealed or expunged
A mistake of your past should not be a factor that impacts you throughout your life. So if the law permits, you can consider getting your records sealed or expunged.
Again, this depends on the nature of your offense and the time when it was committed, but generally minor felonies or misdemeanors can be sealed or expunged after a period of 7 to 10 years depending on the state laws.
- Know the rules about background checks in you state
The law permits landlords to run background checks on tenants but what records show up in your background check vary from state to state.
In some States felony records do not show up in your background check after a certain period of time (usually 7 to 10 years). For instance, in the state of California, convictions do not appear in background checks after a period of 7 years so you can choose to not reveal your felony records.
However, in some states it doesn’t matter how old the felony is, you may still be denied a house based on your records.
- Offer a few months of rent upfront
Landlords are often in need of money and getting rent on time is a major concern while letting out property to felons. If you have savings, then you can consider offering a larger security deposit or a few months of rent upfront. It is a good way to show that your finances are stable while also helping the landlord. This alone can convince the landlord to offer you the deal.
- Get references who can vouch for you
Having references from family members, friends, colleagues, workplace and places you have volunteered can help you establish your credibility and trustworthiness. It shows that people are willing to bet on you as they know you are trying hard to reintegrate into the society.
- Understand the impact of Credit History
A bad credit not only affects your finances but also lowers you chances of getting a rental apartment. Bad credit showing up in background checks will raise concerns about your financial situation and also about your ability to pay rent on time.
Though building a good credit score is a long term process, you can start by developing good financial habits like paying your lenders on time, paying your credit card bills regularly on time and fulfilling your financial obligations.
56% landlords won’t take tenants that have a bad credit even if they like the tenant – According to a SmartMove survey.
Source: TransUnion SmartMove
Finding an apartment can be difficult but not impossible. Most felons try for properties that are not always felon friendly and get rejected. Doing some research about the neighborhood gives a fair idea about their likelihood of accepting a felon. Following some simple guidelines we have mentioned above can make your apartment search easier.