Over 70 million Americans have been arrested. If you only rent to tenants with sparklingly clean backgrounds, you may find yourself limited when it comes time to fill vacancies. While many landlords are hesitant to rent to people who have spent time behind bars, it's worthwhile to do you research and ensure you're not infringing on a person's right to housing. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is committed to protecting a felon's right to rent a place to live. While you're certainly allowed to ask about an applicant's arrest history, denying a person solely because of their criminal background could land you in court.
At the same time, you want to factor your current residents' safety when considering renting to someone with a criminal background. Consider asking applicants with a record to write out the circumstances surrounding their arrest, trial and sentencing. Not only will you learn more details about whether the crime was a violent one, you'll also have a written record to point to showing that you at least attempted to be understanding of their background. Blanket policies forbidding felons are sure to land you in legal hot water, after all.
If your community is home to families with children, your hands may be tied. Those who are registered on the sex offenders list may not live near children, giving you the freedom to deny their application outright.
The best way to handle a felon who wants to live in your community? Develop your policy before they apply. Don't wait to cross the bridge when you come to it. Create a policy in writing that lists your preferences for those with a criminal history. Perhaps you're willing to rent to those with drug or other non-violent crimes on their background check, but you draw the line at murder or assault. Wherever you draw the line, make it clear before you have an applicant show up eager to rent from you.
Keep an open mind when considering felon tenants. If a person has a recent clean history and has managed to keep down a stable job, they may very well be a fine tenant. Still, always bear the safety of your other tenants in mind when making such a decision.
- Scott Safadi, Cal Bay Property Mangement
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