Whether you’re looking for your first apartment since leaving prison or you’re an ex-felon simply looking to move to more convenient or more affordable housing, you’ve no doubt realized how difficult it can be to rent an apartment with a felony on your record.
And it’s not just felonies that lead to rejection by landlords and property managers. When they run a rental background check, landlords also see misdemeanor convictions and arrest records, and both can mean rejection.
One-third of the adult population in the United States has some kind of criminal history, and around 19 million adults have a felony on their record. But the majority find somewhere to live, so renting an apartment with a felony isn’t a hopeless task.
Let’s get into some details and discuss how to rent an apartment with a felony on your record.
How To Get An Apartment As A Felon – Can You Pass The Background Check?
The vast majority of landlords and property managers carry out background checks on prospective tenants, and the background report includes a criminal history search.
Background reports have to comply with state and federal law, though, and that means some information about your history may be off-limits.
Federal law in the form of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) regulates consumer reporting agencies and imposes a 7-year reporting limit on employment and credit history, and arrest records.
Unfortunately, the FCRA doesn’t apply the 7-year limit to convictions, and unless state law has imposed a limit, all convictions can be reported on a background check.
Some states have set limits, though, which is helpful to ex-offenders once their conviction passes that time limit. But if you’ve got a more recent felony conviction, these reporting restrictions won’t help you for now.
The following states have a 7-year limit on reporting convictions:
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- New York
Californian cities, Oakland and Berkeley have both taken further steps to help former offenders find housing. In these cities, apartment complex landlords cannot run a criminal record search on applicants, although they can still check the sex offenders’ register.
According to a report by the tenant screening agency Smart Move, 44% of landlords won’t rent to applicants with a criminal history. That leaves 56% who will. So why is it so hard to find an apartment with a felony on your record?
Well, of that more reasonable 56%, some won’t rent to felons at all, but they will consider applicants with a misdemeanor on their criminal record.
Some others may rent to a felon if their felony is over 5 or 10 years old and didn’t involve property damage, violence, or drug dealing.
In reality, the percentage of landlords willing to rent a felon is much lower than the 56% suggested by the report.
Anti-discrimination laws, including the Fair Housing Act, don’t help because those laws only cover protected characteristics like race, ethnicity, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious beliefs, and family structure.
Note ** As an ex-offender, the anti-discrimination law doesn’t give you any protection unless you’re a drug addict because having a drug addiction is considered a disability.
So, what can you do when you can’t pass a rental background check? You need to get some help, and luckily, help is available. You aren’t on your own.
How to Rent An Apartment With A Felony On Your Record
Trying to find a landlord willing to rent to you when you’ve got a felony on your record is like trying to find that teeny tiny needle buried deep in that huge pile of hay.
Property managers don’t advertise the fact that they’re willing to rent to felons because they don’t want to deter ‘regular’ renters.
If you try to find felon-friendly landlords on your own, you’ll waste a lot of time viewing apartments, filling out applications, and waiting to hear back. You’ll also throw serious amounts of money away on wasted application fees.
More productive approaches include getting help from the following sources.
- Get a list of felon-friendly landlords from your probation/parole officer
- Find an apartment with help from a re-entry organization
- Hire a second-chance apartment finder
Let’s take each one in turn.
Get Help From Your Probation Or Parole Officer
If you’re still on probation or parole, your probation/parole officer should be able to help you find an apartment to rent. They’ll be able to give you a list of apartments to call or they’ll put you in touch with a reentry organization.
If you’re still in a halfway house, the staff there should also know of some local apartments that accept felons.
Contact A Reentry Organization For Help Finding A Felon Friendly Apartment
Reentry organizations are a valuable source of help for felons and they can be a great resource when you’re trying to find an apartment.
They’ve worked with hundreds if not thousands of felons in the past and will know local landlords prepared to rent an apartment to a felon.
Many charities that help felons find employment and housing have a Christian foundation. Don’t let that put you off. You won’t be judged or forced to attend worship.
The Catholic Church, in particular, is heavily involved in reentry ministries, which are supported by members of the local diocese.
To find reentry assistance, use a search engine and search for “reentry organization” “reentry charity”, “reentry programs” or “reentry assistance” followed by your state, city, or nearest city.
You can also run a search for “Catholic reentry mission” followed by your city.
Hire A Second Chance Apartment Finder
Search online for “second chance apartments”, and you usually get apartments that are willing to take tenants with bad credit. Those aren’t the second-chance apartments you need because they’ll still run a criminal background search (which you’ll pay for) and many won’t take you with a felony on your record.
You need second-chance apartments for felons.
Landlords and property managers willing to rent apartments to ex-felons don’t call their properties second-chance apartments, and they certainly don’t advertise their apartments using those terms.
That’s why you can’t expect to get a list of apartment addresses if you search online for second-chance or felon-friendly apartments in your town or city.
But you can find second-chance apartment finders.
Second-chance apartment finders are usually real estate agents who know the local rental market very well. In their line of business, they get to know landlords and property managers, and they find out about their rental criteria so they can refer qualifying clients.
Agents build and maintain a database of apartment complexes and smaller landlords that will rent apartments to felons.
When you contact a second chance apartment finder, they’ll need to get details about your felony and they’ll often want to run a background check to confirm what you’ve told them about your circumstances.
Then, they’ll check their database to match you with suitable apartments where the property manager or landlord will accept your particular felony offense.
You’ll be able to view the apartments, and the agent will make contact on your behalf and confirm that your felony won’t be an issue if you apply.
You’ll still have to go through a full background check and meet the other acceptance criteria (employment history, rental history, credit history, and minimum income) though.
Just search online for “second chance apartment finder” followed by your city to get started. Also, search on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.
Apply For HUD Housing Or Section 8 Vouchers
HUD is the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD provides the funding that states use to provide rental assistance and project-based housing to low-income, elderly and disabled households.
As a felon, you might work in a low-paid job, and that could make you eligible for help.
Public housing authorities provide Section 8 housing vouchers which cover a portion of the rent you need to pay to your landlord. They also manage publicly owned housing.
For Section 8 help, you’ll need to meet the income eligibility threshold set by your housing authority and in some areas, your felony will need to be at least 5 or 10 years old.
The good news about Section 8 vouchers and public housing is they make putting a roof over your head affordable. The bad news is, there’s always a long waiting list for the vouchers.
That’s why you should get an appointment with a housing counselor as soon as you can and get on the list. At your appointment, you can also ask your counselor to recommend landlords that rent to felons.
That wraps up our guide on how to find an apartment with a felony on your record. Contact officials connected with your release to get a list of felon-friendly landlords or a referral to a reentry organization.
If you’ve finished your period of supervision, get in touch with a reentry organization yourself or use an apartment finder. And make sure you get yourself on the waiting list for Section 8 help as soon as you can.
Robert Eric (a lover of Cats and Dogs) is the co-founder of HireFelonsJobs. In our search for a better life, after… A platform was created for the purpose of easing the search for ex-convicts.