One of the biggest hurdles to reintegrating into society after serving time is finding suitable housing. This problem is pervasive in all states across the US, and it is often more challenging for a felon to rent an apartment than it is to find a job.
A big mistake many felons make when they search for housing, is waste time and energy applying to places that are almost 100% guaranteed to reject their application.
If you are a convicted felon currently looking for a home, this guide will point you to the right places to look for an apartment, and teach you how to maximize your chances of convincing a landlord to give a you a chance.
Where can you rent an apartment if you have a felony?
According to law, any landlord or a rental management property has the right to run a background check on a potential tenant and reject them if they have a criminal record. It does not matter what the crime is and it doesn’t matter how old it is – you can still be denied a rental. While it certainly seems like discrimination, by law its actually not.
Once your criminal past is discovered, the chances of your application being accepted are pretty much zero. So what’s the solution?
Look for rental listings that would not require a background check!!!!
Where would you find such apartments?
Craigslist.com. Unlike other big apartment search engines, Craigslist has the largest selection of properties that are being rented out by individual landlords, NOT property management or real estate companies. You can search your state, and put in minimum and maximum cost for a rental that you can afford.
Getting in touch with a small-time landlord who is looking to rent out an apartment or two, is your biggest chance at landing an apartment.
Here is how to maximize your success when searching for an apartment of Craigslist.
1. Look for less popular, low income towns that are further away from the center. The rents will be cheaper, the demand lower, and landlords may be more flexible, especially if they really need to rent out their place.
2. Look at apartments that are located in a single family house or a duplex. These are most likely being rented by a private landlord and not a management company.
3. Consider basement rentals or even a single room. Demand for these is lower so you may have a better chance.
4. Avoid rentals that are listed in a building or a large apartment complex. Most likely these are listings by a management company, and they will reject you.
5. Read the listing carefully, to see if the background check required is specified from the start. If it is, don’t waste your time.
6. Don’t just look in the category of “Apt/housing”. Search listings in “Rooms/Shared” as well as “Sublets/Temporary”
Another place to search for an apartment or a room is Zillow’s Community Pillar Program. This popular search engine created a special program to help struggling individuals get in touch with landlords who are willing to relax their standards and criteria in order to give people a second chance.
How to convince the landlord to accept you as a tenant
Before you start setting up appointments to see various apartments, you have to understand the mindset of a landlord.
What are they looking for in a tenant? What are they worried about and want to avoid?
Here are some common things all landlords want:
– Regular monthly payments – full rental amount
– Security of knowing that a tenant has a steady job or source of income
– Keeping the place neat – no major expensive damages, repairs, etc
– A quiet tenant that stays out of trouble with the neighbors – no violence, drugs, police, etc
Knowing this will help you talk to landlords in the right way, that will convince them to give you a chance.
So having money is the Number 1 priority. If you have a job, it may be a good idea to save up for some time and offer the landlord to pay for a few months of rent up front. Often, this is very much welcome, since many landlords really need the cash. This alone, can convince him to sign the lease with you.
Show up to the interview in clean clothing, be polite and answer all their questions in detail. They have to assess your trustworthiness and character.
If you get lucky, the landlord may not ask about your past, criminal record, etc. In this case, there is no need to disclose anything.
However, if the landlord starts asking questions about your background, its important to be honest. Lying will not help, since he will most likely want to run a background check anyways. In describing your past, stress how much you have learned and changed.
It is a good idea to bring a couple of references with you: people that can vouch for you being a decent person who will not cause trouble. This can be a reference from a job, family member or friend.
Secret Tip: one way to rent an apartment is to have a family member or a significant other who does not have a criminal record sign the lease instead of you. This way, your criminal background will not come up, and you can safely reside in the apartment. This can work in a situation if a landlord does not live in the same house and will not be watching who actually lives in the apartment.
How volunteering can help you rent an apartment
If you don’t currently have a job or are only working part time, we strongly suggest starting to volunteer. This does not have to take up a lot of your time. There are many none-profits, community organizations and churches that are always looking for extra people to help out.
How can this benefit you?
First, you can start meeting a lot of people that you wouldn’t otherwise meet. Personal connections go a long way – perhaps someone will have a friend who is renting a room or an apartment and will be able to put in a good word for you. A landlord always prefers to rent to a tenant that comes from a personal connection than from the street.
Second, you will be able to get great references to show to a landlord. Helping others will speak volumes about your character and commitment to leading an honest life.
Can a felon get Federal housing/Section 8?
Depending on the nature of your crime, you may also qualify for Section 8, or other types of Federal Housing. However, there are some felonies that disqualify you from applying:
– Sex crimes
– Drug trafficking
– Assault / violent crimes
– Certain types of fraud
If your crime falls into any of these categories, don’t waste your time applying to public housing, you will be rejected.
On the other hand, if you think you may qualify, you should definitely apply for Section 8. Go to your local Housing Authority to get an application. Fill it out with all supporting documents and get on the waiting list.
Keep in mind, that rules and regulations will differ depending on the state you live in. Some Housing Authorities reject people with felonies, regardless of the crime. Others require that a certain number of years has passed since the applicant has been released from jail.
Moreover, its important to realize that most public housing has way more applicants than spots. It may take 6 months to 2 years before your turn on the waiting list comes up. So while its a good solution to consider long term, it will not solve your immediate problem of where to live.