Can a Felon Rent a House?

Everybody needs a place to live. If you don’t own a house, you will need to rent. You can rent a house, an apartment, or a room in a house. Renting can be a better financial decision than home ownership. If you are not sure that you want to stay in your area or city for more than five years, you should rent.

You will need some extra money to get started. You will have to pay an application fee and a background check fee. You will probably need a security deposit. You may need to pay the last month’s rent.

Can a person with a felony conviction rent a house or apart?

Yes, but it can be a lot of work. If your felony was for a violent crime, you will have extra difficulty. If you are a registered sex offender, landlords may not be legally allowed to rent to you. It depends on whether  the apartment or house is near schools, day care centers, and parks. Federal law prohibits anyone who manufactured methamphetamine in a public housing facility to rent again in public housing.

However, if your felony was related to drug use (not manufacturing or selling) there are laws that may protect you. Federal law says that you can not be discriminated against if your felony was drug-use related.

Also, if your felony was related to a mental health issue, you may have some legal protection. Substance abuse and mental health are considered to be health issues. No one is supposed to discriminate against a person with a health issue.

The good news is that there are no state laws about renting to a person with a felony conviction. Landlords or property managers can make the decision to rent to anyone they want. The bad news is that a landlord or property manager can legally discriminate against you because of your felony conviction.

You will want to do research so you don’t waste time and money. Community agencies may have leads to find felon-friendly housing. You have three housing and rental assistance options: Public housing, Section 8, and private rental. Each of these has some challenges.

Public housing, Section 8, and Private Rental

Public housing is low-income housing that is owned by the government. Your state will have different options. Public Housing authorities can choose who to rent to, but they are supposed to not discriminate you because of a felony on your record. Contact your state’s public housing website for information on public housing.

Section 8 is government rental assistance. Section 8 will pay your rent directly to private landlords and property managers. You are not eligible for Section 8 if you have the following felony convictions: assault or violent crime, sex crimes, some fraud crimes, and drug trafficking.  You should be able to receive Section 8 assistance with any other felony. Check your Section 8 eligibility. There is a long waiting list in many states for Section 8 assistance. Section 8 is only financial assistance. You will still need to find a place to rent.

 What is the rental process?

If you are trying to get into public housing, there will be an application and a background check. Public housing is not supposed to ask you to pay for your background check.

Your other option is to find a private renter or go through a property manager. Private renters are people who own one or a small number of properties. Some private renters are formal and require an application and background check. Some private renters are more relaxed. Property managers are usually apartment complex landlords.

They either own a large building or they own multiple properties. Property managers will always require an application. There will be employment information on the application. You will need to show that you can pay the rent. There is often an application fee. Sometimes there is a background check. Property managers and private renters may ask you to pay for the background check.

The public housing authorities and well as property managers and private renters make a rental decision based on your application and the background check.

Information about background checks

You need to give permission to have a background check run on you. If someone runs a background check without asking first, they are not in compliance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ( EEOC.) You may be asked to pay for your background check.

It might be a good idea to run your own background check to see what it looks like. Sometimes there are errors that should be fixed.

Unfortunately, it is legal to discriminate against you due to your felony conviction, except for certain circumstances. It is not legal to discriminate because of gender, race, age ( over 40), disability, gender identity, sexual identity, pregnancy, color, religion and genetic information. This means that landlords can decide not to rent to you because you have a felony conviction. However, they have to be fair. They can’t rent to Asians with a felony but not rent to Latinos with a felony.

Some states only allow background checks to go back seven years. The states that have a seven-year limit are California, Colorado, New York, Kansas, Montana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, Texas,  and Washington.

If your state is not one with a seven-year limit, your felony conviction will be on a background check.  However, the person asking for the background check decides how many years back to check. One strategy you might try is to find out ahead of time how far back the landlord’s background check will go. If your felony was years ago, and the application you are filling out doesn’t require you to reveal the felony, you may decide not to mention it.

The official advice is to be completely honest when filling out an application. A landlord can refuse to rent to you if you are dishonest on a rental application. Landlords might appreciate your honesty if you reveal your felony record. However, if your felony conviction was long ago and you are certain that the background check will not reveal your record you may choose to stay quiet.

Property managers and private renters make a individual decision as to how many years they want to see on a background check.  Public Housing will see your full criminal record.

Additional Advice

In general, property managers (those who own multiple properties or large complexes) are not flexible.

When there are many applicants, they often will deny any application or background check with a felony record. If possible, find out ahead of time. You don’t want to pay the application fee and the  background check fee if it’s not a possibility. Some property managers might be okay with a felony conviction that is over ten years ago.

You have a better chance of finding a place to rent with a private landlord. Not all private landlords run background checks. Those that do may be willing to learn about the particular circumstances of your felony conviction. They may be supportive of your goal of getting your life back on track. You have the hope of appealing to a landlord’s better nature. Also, most landlords really only care about three things: paying rent on time, polite behavior, and taking good care of the property. Focus on explaining how you will accomplish those three things.Your community may have a list of felon-friendly landlords.

Finally, there are some specific strategies that you can try. Money always helps. You can offer a larger security deposit. You can pay the last month’s rent. You can offer extra references (more than are required on the application.) Extra letters of recommendation  (especially from social workers, GED teachers, rehab counselors, etc.) may help. Volunteer work shows character.

Rural areas or small towns may be a good idea. Usually there are less rental applicants. Craigslist is a good place to find private landlords. Churches, synagogues, or mosques might help.


In summary:

Finding rental housing can be frustrating. Certain felony convictions make it even more difficult. Try to get help from a community service. Find out ahead of time is someone is willing to work with you. That can save you a lot of time, money, and stress. The good news is that there are no laws standing in your way. You just have to find the right landlord.

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