Do Landlords Run Background Checks?

Upon being released from incarceration, there are a few crucial questions felons should ask themselves.  Among those questions is where, and how, they will be able to live. Housing is perhaps the most significant piece in the life that a felon may be looking to reassemble. Without housing, it can prove difficult to find a job, re-establish relationships, or to even take care of basic physical and mental health needs.

For any number of personal and financial reasons, felons may find rental properties their best choice. Renting offers more flexibility in where someone can live. It also offers the opportunity to rebuild financial history and gain references for future housing moves or even employment. Just as significantly, renting also offers a chance for former felons to reassert control over their lives with autonomy and independence.

Some felons will have concerns about this process, and rightly so. Most landlords will conduct a background check, and their policies regarding criminal records may be prohibitive towards a felon signing a lease. Nevertheless, there are options and choices. This piece will explore some of those choices.

Suitable Housing For Felons

The first choice that might come to mind are apartment rentals. Apartments are most common in densely populated urban areas. Large cities will often have the best prospects for employment, and a local apartment is a convenient option. Rental units will also likely be the most affordable option, as real estate prices in many large cities, such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, can be extremely high.

Apartments in large cities will generally be owned by large companies. Most of these will have some variation of a standard rental application. These application forms will ask applicants to provide specific and relevant information, including:

  • Previous addresses
  • Employment
  • Personal references
  • Social Security Number
  • Personal history

Several items on this list may give felons pause.  The rental application essentially serves as a background check, and a criminal conviction will undoubtedly show up. Landlords have numerous incentives for gathering this data on their applicants.

Purposes For Background Checks

First is ensuring the safety of their other tenants. A person’s past can sometimes predict their future actions, and landlords do not want to risk the reputation of their property, or scare other tenants away.

Crime also raises the potential for lawsuits against landlords, or property management companies. Background checks offer a measure of protection against their liability in such a case.

Second is to ensure the stability of the rent paid to the landlord or management company. Much like credit companies, landlords will see a history of stable employment and reliable behavior as indicative of a good choice for their community. Any history of late or outstanding payments owed will show up in a credit check. Accounts that are charged off to collections agencies will appear as well.

A third reason for performing a background check is to verify that an applicant is who they claim to be. Income, employment, history of residence and personal references all contribute to this. A credit check also establishes all of this information, and provides security for the landlord during the application process.

A background check allows landlords and property managers to screen potential tenants for what might be considered red flags. They do not allow applicants to be discriminated against based on culture or ethnicity, so these should not be a concern for felons looking for rent. The criminal background check will reveal charges and convictions connected with an individual, and felonies do not come off of criminal record without either an expungement, or a successful appeal to seal a criminal case.

Housing Options For Felons

Where does this leave a felon? A felony conviction is not necessarily indicative of personal character. Felonies can be the consequences of a poor choice, an accident, or a moment of need. Society still casts a stigma upon felons, however, and this attitude can be reflected in the search for housing.

Felons should consider avoiding larger and more modern apartment complexes. These are more likely to be owned by corporate management groups, who may have inflexible policies against those with a criminal background. Individual managers may be prohibited from making exceptions, whether they wish to or not.

Smaller, older properties are often either privately owned, or managed by small, independent real estate agencies. These will be a better option for felons. Their background checks may not be as stringent as those of corporate management groups. Also, the owners or landlords may be more willing to accommodate for special circumstances, such as those presented by someone with a criminal conviction.

There are numerous variables to be considered when weighing someone’s personal history and criminal record for a lease application. These include the date of the crime and sentence, nature of the crime, personal character, repeat incidents, or legal obligations, such those on child sex offenders.

Help For Felons In The Search For Housing

All of this may feel difficult for a felon to face on their own. They are already trying to manage the burden of re-establishing their life and relationships. For this reason, many non-profits groups and agencies exist to help felons find suitable housing after they are released from prison. Search the internet for options in your area.

In some circumstances, felons also qualify for Section 8 housing. This will depend both on the state of residence, and the type of felony. Section 8 allows for low-income households to qualify for rent assistance from the government. The assistance is issued in the form of vouchers, which can be used at designated housing complexes. Sex offenders may be disqualified in most areas from receiving Section 8 assistance.

Felons should also evaluate whether renting a room with either a friend, family member, or stranger might be a short-term option. In addition to providing shelter and basic amenities, this can also help to build new personal networks. There are numerous websites available to search for rooms or apartments.

Building A Home Outside Of Prison

It may seem difficult to find suitable housing for a felon transitioning from jail. There are a few key tips for conducting this search, however.

  • Do not focus on large, modern apartment complexes
  • using resources such as local non-profits to locate felon-friendly housing
  • expand their options to Craigslist and other internet search sites
  • Check on eligibility for Section 8 assistance

Housing is a crucial piece of the puzzle when rebuilding a life after prison. Background checks should not be a deterrent to attaining a comfortable and convenient place to live. Furthermore, there are incentives and tax breaks in certain states and cities for complexes to house the formerly incarcerated. Regardless of your past, you have both the ability and the right to build a new home, and a new life.

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