Sometimes, overcoming life challenges can be a bit of a double-edged sword. If you're dealing with a felony or criminal activity on your record, getting a job and your own apartment might be challenging.
Even if you have a steady income and are ready to get your own place, it might be difficult for a potential landlord to rent to you if she notices your criminal history doesn't come back clean.
Landlords want great tenants — those who pay on time, have good credit and a clean record. In order to ensure this, a background check is standard in the application process.
According to Daniel Park, owner of Shadowlawn Properties in Los Angeles, “background checks are a must." He says there are “different levels of checks but I always do all major ones, which include criminal, eviction and credit. There are online sources that make it easy for tenants to pay for the background check and for landlords to view them."
One study says that 44 percent of landlords won't overlook a criminal history. The odds may not be in your favor if you have a criminal record, but there are ways to find a rental. After all, you're not the only one going through this issue. Twenty-eight percent of SmartMove applicants had a blemish on their records. You'll probably just need to jump through a few extra hoops to get there.
So, what can you do? First, start your search with apartment buildings that don't do background checks. Also, you may want to connect with a trusted real estate agent who's knowledgeable about renting.
Here are seven ways to help put you in a better position to find an apartment.
Instead of searching for rentals in buildings that are operated by property management companies, try searching for apartments that are privately owned by an individual landlord.
Management companies often have thorough background and screening processes when applicants want to rent from them. The chances of having an understanding landlord may be better than dealing with a management company.
Talking with an individual person may help when you explain your situation — ideally in a face-to-face conversation, with proper documentation (more on that below). Your chance of getting the landlord to rent to you might be higher if she can see that you're not the person that your record may say you are.
This is not to say that you shouldn't disclose your past to a potential landlord. You're just looking for a better scenario that may give you an opportunity to speak more openly and directly since the owner has the ultimate say in who she decides to accept as the new tenant.
As the saying goes, honesty is the best policy.
These days because of the internet and social media, it's hard to get away with a lie. A simple Google search may turn up a lot of information, in addition to a background check. Additionally, lying on your application may get you immediately booted or rejected as a tenant.
Even if you somehow end up renting the unit without having your landlord find out about your criminal record, if she discovers this while you're living there, you may get the evicted, anyway. Having to suddenly pick up and move will be stressful.
In some states like California, a background check won't reveal a conviction that's more than seven years old. If you're in this situation, you don't need to disclose your conviction.
It's very unfair, in many cases, to deny housing to someone based on a very old conviction, but in many states, there's no law against it.
Put yourself in the landlord's shoes. She wants to rent to a reliable, trustworthy person who will pay rent on time and not cause trouble. This is good to keep at the top of mind when looking for an apartment so you can assure your potential landlord you won't ever:
Bring proper documentation that denotes your good character. Just like people who have been evicted or have bad credit, you should be prepared with documentation that shows how you've made strides to move forward with your life.
Bring glowing letters or references from friends, family, places you've worked or volunteered. These may show you're a trustworthy person who's integrating back into society with a positive outlook.
Take advantage of resources in your community that may be available to you. Check out non-profits in your area that cater to helping felons get back on their feet.
For example, in the San Francisco area, the Northern California Service League offers post-release services that include a housing assessment.
There are also reentry programs typically available in every state. The Reentry Council of the City & County of San Francisco publishes a guide that includes housing resources for ex-offenders.
If you have savings put away, consider offering a larger security deposit or a few months' rent upfront.
While this isn't a guarantee the landlord will say yes, it may give the landlord more peace of mind for any property damage or trepidation that you won't pay rent on time.
Federal law says landlords can't deny you housing because of your gender, sexual orientation or religion. However, criminal records can be more complicated.
According to The Verge, “If a record involves property damage, for example, a landlord might be within their legal right to decline an application, on the basis that it indicates a potential problem in the future."
It may take you more time than the average person who doesn't have a criminal record to find an apartment.
Be honest about your situation and remember, it's not personal if a landlord doesn't want to rent to you. Property management companies and landlords simply want to reduce their liability with tenants.
Be persistent in your search and don't give up. Treat this like a job interview and when you meet with potential landlords, dress well, be polite and bring references.