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 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 do not require a background check!!!!
Where would you find such apartments?
1. Search second chance rentals on Zillow.com and Yelp.com. There are thousands of apartment rentals on these search engines. In the search, you can specify “apartments with no background check” and put in your zip code.
This way, you will get apartment listings in your area that do not require a background check or a credit check. Keep in mind that there will not be many felon friendly apartments to pick from.
2. Give Zumper.com a try. This is a little known housing search engine that has a good number of second chance apartments that don’t require a background or a credit check. When you scroll through the listings, many of them will actually state ” Felony-friendly” right in the description of the apartment.
3. Your best bet is to look for housing on 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 for “no credit check apartments” near you, 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.
3. 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.
Felon-friendly housing search tips
Here is how to maximize your success when searching for an apartment on Craigslist, Yelp or Zillow.
– Look for less popular, low income towns that are further away from the center. The rents will be cheaper and the demand lower. Also, landlords in these less desirable neighborhoods may be more flexible, especially if they really need to rent out their place.
However, here you also need to consider your commute to work or ease of travel if you are looking for a job. You may need to save money for a cheap used car to be able to move out to a more distant neighborhood were rentals for felons are available.
– 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.
– Consider basement rentals or even a single room. Demand for these is lower, so you may have a better chance.
– 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. In fact, 99% of the time large property management companies reject applicants with bad credit and/or criminal backgrounds. Thus, its best to just skip these listings, because filling out each application takes a long time.
– Read the listing carefully, to see if the background check or credit check is required. If it is, don’t waste your time.
– Don’t just look in the category of “Apt/housing”. Search listings in “Rooms/Shared” as well as “Sublets/Temporary”
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.
Most likely, you are struggling with bad credit and this also hurts your chances of finding suitable housing. While this is a long term goal, working to rebuild your credit will ultimately improve your chances of renting a decent apartment.
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 criminal past, stress how much you have learned and changed. Don’t focus on the details of the crimes you have committed.
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.
Lastly, once you get your Section 8 voucher, you may not be able to rent just any place you like. Most landlords that rent Section 8 apartments, still run a background check, and they have the right to deny you based on your criminal conviction.
Warning: If you have a friend or a family member who already has Section 8 house, DO NOT stay with them long term as a guest. This is against the law and the person doing you a favor is risking loosing his eligibility for Section 8 housing forever.
Instead, you can try staying as a guest for an amount of time allowed by law. Usually, its 2-4 weeks, depending on the city and state.
If a close relative (parent or child) has a subsidized apartment, you can try to apply to stay with them as part of their household. You may need to wait a few months before your eligibility is determined.
Will an eviction hurt your chances of finding a home?
Many ex cons who are struggling to find housing or need help paying rent have a history of being evicted at least once. This can be a huge stumbling block for getting an apartment in the future. This is because a potential landlord can easily find out about your eviction by running a credit check and seeing that you owe money to the previous landlord.
However, the good news is that there is a way to fix this problem, so a previous eviction will not hurt your chances of renting an apartment.
Here is what you should do:
1. Contact the previous landlord and set up a payment plan to pay back any money you still owe for back rent.
2. If you have damaged the property in any way, offer to pay for the repairs. If you are short on cash, you can apply for felon-friendly credit cards that will give you a cash advance. Be careful, as the pay back rates on these cards are very high!
3. Once you pay everything, ask the landlord to remove the eviction from your credit report.
4. Also, be sure to ask for a good reference from the previous landlord to show that you are a responsible person who takes care of his mistakes.
Its understandable that you may need to pay back a few thousand dollars to your previous landlord and that this will take time. Its easy to give up in this situation, because fixing this problem is too hard and will take too long.
However, this is NOT smart long-term thinking. Even if paying back your debts will take a while, it will give you a chance to clean up your credit score and actually get a POSITIVE reference from your previous land lord.
You may be surprised to see how many doors of opportunity this will open for you in the future!
Share in the comments below how you were able to find an apartment with a felony conviction.
Are there any good local none-profits or re-entry programs that helped in your housing search that you can recommend to your readers?