When you’ve got a misdemeanor on your record, one of the difficulties you’ll face is being approved to rent an apartment. Can you be denied housing for a misdemeanor? Can an apartment reject you for misdemeanors?
Unfortunately, the answer to both questions is yes, it’s possible. However, being denied isn’t a certainty. Let’s look at some details so you know what to expect.
Can You Be Denied Housing For A Misdemeanor?
Public Housing Authorities, also known as PHAs, carry out comprehensive background screening on all low-income public housing applicants, and applicants to the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program.
That screening includes a criminal background check on all adults who will live at the property. Because PHAs receive funding from the federal government, they have to follow the anti-discrimination rules set out in the Fair Housing Act.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issues guidelines to Public Housing Authorities based on Fair Housing Act standards. The guidance requires PHAs to evaluate criminal background information on a case-by-case basis.
HUD guidelines prohibit blanket bans on applicants with misdemeanor or felony convictions on their criminal records (except in the 2 circumstances detailed below).
When evaluating an applicant’s record, the nature of the crime and the severity of the offense must be considered along with the age of the offense. Mitigating factors in your favor will also be taken into account, but you need to supply evidence to support your case.
Mitigating information can include:
- Your employment record.
- Character references from your employer, faith leader, community leader, probation officer, or volunteer program coordinator.
- Letters from substance abuse counselors/programs.
- Education and training you’ve completed since the offense took place.
- References from your current or former landlord and from your neighbors.
When you reach the top of the housing waiting list, you’ll be given a release to sign, which allows the PHA to carry out a background check. Enclose your mitigating evidence to support your application along with your release form.
See Also: Can A Felon Rent An Apartment?
Reasons Housing May Be Denied
Under HUD guidelines, two offenses will result in the denial of housing assistance without a case-by-case evaluation. These are:
- An offense that requires lifetime registration as a sex offender.
- Manufacturing methamphetamine in federally assisted housing.
In all other cases, when an applicant’s criminal background presents a potential risk to the safety of other tenants or to their peaceful enjoyment of their residence, then a housing application may be denied. However, the denial of housing must be supported by evidence, it cannot be speculative.
What does this mean in practice? When you apply for public housing, you won’t receive an automatic rejection because you have a misdemeanor on your record. For your application to be denied, the PHA must be able to show that you present a risk.
Under the Fair Housing Act, you also have the right to appeal a negative housing decision. If you’re denied housing or rent assistance because of your misdemeanor, write to the appeals address given on your rejection notice and ask for a meeting to make your appeal.
You should also ask for a copy of your application, the background report information they used to deny your application, and a copy of their Tenant Selection Plan.
It’s worth pointing out that different PHAs have different applicant qualification policies. Even if you don’t qualify for one, you can still apply to other PHAs in your county. And you can join more than one PHA waiting list.
Getting Help With Your Housing Application
Applying for public housing or Section 8 assistance can be a confusing process, luckily there’s free and low-cost help available to guide you through the process.
Go to the HUD website and enter your ZIP Code or state to find housing counselors in your area. You can choose to visit a counselor or get help over the phone.
Another resource you can turn to is one of your local re-entry organizations. Re-entry organizations help previously incarcerated ex-offenders:
- Find housing and employment
- Access education and training
- Obtain medical care and other essentials
Re-entry staff in your area will have expert knowledge about the acceptance criteria of your local PHA, and they’ll help you with the application, and if necessary, your appeal.
Searching online is the easiest way to find the support you need in your area. Just search for “re-entry support” or “services for ex-offenders” followed by your city.
Can An Apartment Reject You For Misdemeanors?
So far, we’ve looked at the rules for low-income public housing and the Section 8 housing voucher program. What about private landlords? Can an apartment reject you for misdemeanors? Is it legal?
Private landlords can reject your rental application because of a misdemeanor on your criminal background report. Criminal background of any kind is grounds for a landlord to legally discriminate against you when you apply to rent an apartment.
However, while landlords will very often refuse to rent an apartment to an applicant with a felony offense on their record, they are more willing to overlook misdemeanor offenses. In some cases, a landlord will only carry out a background search for felony offenses because they don’t care about misdemeanors at all.
The important factors landlords consider when they evaluate your background report are the type of misdemeanor offense on your record and how long it’s been since you were in trouble.
A misdemeanor for simple drug possession 5 years ago will be less of a concern to a landlord than a misdemeanor conviction for simple assault or for vandalism in the last 12 months.
Recently Published: Will A Possession Charge Show Up On A Background Check?
How Far Back Do Rental Background Checks Go?
Can you be denied housing for a misdemeanor that happened 10 or 20 years ago?
The period covered by a background check is known as the look-back period. There’s no nationwide standard look-back period for the private landlord or public housing rental background checks.
A private landlord can decide what look-back period they want to cover as long as limitations haven’t been set by state law. The same is true for public housing authorities.
Some states don’t allow background checks to go back further than 7 years, for other states, the maximum look-back period is 10 years, and for the rest, there’s no time limit.
States with 7-year background check limits include:
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- New York
The Restoration Of Rights Project has a comprehensive list that covers the limits in place in all 50 states. Look up the rules for your state here.
Can You Get An Apartment With A Misdemeanor? How To Find Out
When you’ve got a misdemeanor on your record, it’s always a good idea to ask about a landlord’s background check policy before you fill out a rental application and pay the non-refundable application fee.
When you’re browsing apartments online on Zillow.com, Rent.com, or any of the other main apartment listing sites, use the messaging function to ask if your misdemeanor will disqualify you. If you want an answer immediately, call the leasing office directly.
You’ll either get a straightforward “yes” or “no” response, or an “it depends on the nature of the offense” response.
If you receive a flurry of rejections on the main listing sites and run out of rental options in your price range, switch your focus to Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. You’ll find the majority of apartment rentals offered on those sites are from independent landlords rather than property management companies.
Independent landlords are free to make a judgment call about your misdemeanor, whereas the leasing manager at a large apartment complex has to follow strict corporate policies.
Need More Help?
If you’re running into repeated rejections because of your misdemeanor, a second-chance apartment locator can help you. These licensed real estate agents work with renters who don’t qualify for apartments because of criminal backgrounds, low credit scores, and previous evictions.
They know which landlords will approve your application and they’ll save you a lot of time and frustration in your search for a new home.
Search online for “second chance apartment locator” or “second chance apartment finder” followed by your city.
Public housing authorities and private landlords can deny you housing because you have a misdemeanor on your record. This is discrimination, but it’s perfectly legal.
The factors that influence their decision will be their overall rental policy and the type and age of their misdemeanor. PHAs and many private landlords will evaluate rental applications on a case-by-case basis, and you’ll find it helpful to supply positive mitigating information to support your application.
In some states, a misdemeanor that’s 5 or 10 years old will not be reported on a background check meaning you can leave your past behind you.
Second-chance apartment locators and re-entry organizations can help you find landlords who will approve your apartment application despite your misdemeanor, and re-entry services can also help you with your application for public housing assistance.
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Charles Greg is the Co-Founder, Author, & Head Developer behind RentingtoFelons.org
With a lifelong passion for humanity.