It is already well established that felons have a hard time finding well-paying steady jobs. More and more employers do run background checks. When a vacancy attracts multiple applications, it is easier for them to eliminate those that are felons.
This form of discrimination is very rampant. In fact, almost half of felons are estimated to be rearrested within a year of release. This recidivism is linked to an inability to find good jobs and apartments that accept felons.
Unemployment, and the despondency it creates, pushes many back into their old bad ways. Many felons find themselves drawn to old criminal associations and influenced back into criminal activity.
Being able to make a decent living naturally encourages new meaningful relationships at work. It also means being able to afford better housing. But that tends to come later when your income qualifies you to take a mortgage.
Upon release, most felons have to find accommodation they can rent. That is if they have no family or friends that can put them up.
However, much like employers, many landlords do run background checks on prospective tenants. If the property is in high demand, it makes it easier for them to disqualify felons.
Credit checks and history of evictions have also become the norm. Logically, if renting out a property you want to be sure of the financial situation of your tenant. Many felons have poor credit scores that further work against them finding decent housing.
Here we will look at the different strategies that felons struggling to find decent housing can apply. Just as with jobs you will likely need to be discerning and make many applications. The world does not favor ex-cons but it does not mean you cannot achieve your goals.
Let’s begin with platforms for felony friendly housing.
Online Platforms for Housing
These days more and more landlords connect with prospective tenants through online ads. There are dedicated platforms that cater to this niche of the market.
This one-stop-shop for housing is made easier when they describe not just the property. Many will detail the kind of tenant they want.
While there are some laws in place to prevent discrimination in housing, it does not protect felons. In most states, a landlord can refuse to rent to someone because they have a criminal record.
So the goal here is to focus on platforms and listings that are felony friendly. Note that many of these sites will facilitate a background check. You can then share this report with landlords for a stipulated period.
This site hosts the largest listing of properties in the country. Many landlords and agents take advantage of their free listing service to find suitable tenants. They provide background and credit checks through Checkr.
You can customize your search to identify apartments that don’t do background checks. Generally, these listings tend to be few.
Check on the site’s Community Pillar Program. The listings here are from landlords and agents with a more relaxed screening process.
Here there is a more generous listing of housing directly from landlords. Without having to deal with an agent you have a stronger chance of dealing face-to-face with the landlord. You can make your case personally as to why you would be an ideal tenant.
You can also customize your search to find apartments that accept felons without credit checks. Search for houses within a specific price range that you can afford.
This site caters to those willing to share accommodation. You would not be renting an entire apartment or house, just a single room with shared amenities. This trending solution provides felons with access to decent housing, at a fraction of the cost.
They consider credit scores of 600+. They also consider those with a criminal history that does not involve personal safety or property damage. It can be a good way to make new friends from your roommates while reintegrating back into society.
Like with Craigslist, you can identify no credit check apartments. This site has plenty of second chance listings with many actually described as being felony friendly apartments.
It is important to be careful here as it can mean ending up in the hands of unscrupulous landlords. You may find your neighbors are also not as carefully vetted.
Knowing that you are a felon and with unreliable income, they may charge exorbitant late fees. They may also offer poorly maintained apartments that lack adequate security.
Weigh your options carefully and carry out some due diligence before settling for this.
If your online search has proven fruitless, what next?
We recommend the following tips that will enhance your chances.
Guidelines for Boosting Your Chances of Decent Housing
1. Family and Friends
If it is still a struggle to find an apartment worth living in, tap into your social network. This is the traditional route that can often be helpful. If you have a sizable network of supportive family and friends, get the word out that you are looking for affordable decent housing.
With people spread out in your area, they can likely identify some good places for you to check out. They can also vouch for you. This can often be very useful when they know the landlord.
Having someone co-sign or guarantee you is a good form of reassurance for the landlord. More so when it is someone with good credit. Always endeavor to behave well and pay your rent on time to avoid violating their trust.
2. Private Housing
Renting a unit in a large apartment complex typically means dealing with an agent or management company. In this situation, you have extremely low chances of securing housing. These professionals are automatically biased and will never pick a felon over a non-felon as a tenant.
You have a better chance when you can speak to the owner directly. Be honest and explain your history and why you make for a good tenant now. The longer it has been since you were released and the less severe the crime, the better your chances.
Be on the lookout for single dwelling units or small complexes with less than four units. These are likely owner-managed.
3. Acquire Handy Skills
Acquiring skills that landlords can make use of in tending to the property and tenants is helpful. From plumbing to gardening, many landlords are willing to take on tenants with skills they can exploit. You can offer to take care of these needs at a subsidized rate.
It can also become a business opportunity that helps earn you a decent living. Take good care of their properties and you may be recommended to other property owners in the area.
4. Consider Relocation
You may want to live in the area you grew up or near family and friends. If the neighborhood is upscale or highly sought after, this may be difficult. The standards are likely to be higher.
Your next best bet is to consider a neighborhood that is further away and has less demand. When considering your options, be sure to factor in your commute to and from work. Smaller up and coming communities will likely have more housing options at a cheaper cost.
5. Re-Entry Programs
Most cities and major towns have reentry organizations that help felons find adequate housing and jobs. Some programs are national while others are regional. Reach out to as many as you can and they will use their network to assist you.
You can likely identify such programs through online searches, talking to your parole officer or therapist. Your local church, non-profits, or other community-based charity may also be helpful. Get in touch with as many as you can to widen your options.
6. Government Assistance
There are several low income and free housing programs available through the government. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has local offices you can visit. Here there should be a listing of such programs and available units.
Section 8 housing may not, however, be for everyone. Those convicted of sex and violent crimes are disqualified. The rules may vary from state to state so make inquiries as to the criteria used.
Many offices provide a housing assessment and resources to help just released ex-cons. This department also provides listings of felony friendly apartments for rent.
Note that there is a high demand for such housing. You may be put on a waiting list for a long while. Avoid crashing with a friend that is also using Section 8 housing as it can affect their eligibility.
7. Engage an Agent
While we have said that agents tend to be biased when renting, they are less so when you hire them. When acting in your interests, they have to make an effort to fulfill your requests.
Because they are a part of the local real estate industry, they are better informed. They know where to find felony friendly housing that is listed and unlisted. They can also offer helpful tips that will enhance your chances.
A good way of demonstrating that you have moved away from your past is volunteerism. Giving back to the community is a great way to prove that you have changed your mindset.
If you have been contributing to a charity or non-profit for a while, you can likely use then as a reference. This can work well in redeeming your image and make you appear more trustworthy.
Volunteering alongside others also helps to build relationships. You may make a connection with someone who can help you find a good place to live.
What Background Checks Involve
As mentioned, background checks are an essential part of renting a property. Depending on the state, the check may be limited in terms of how far back the history goes. This can be useful for older felons as they can skip mentioning their past when it won’t come up.
For those on the sex registry, it is important to note the housing conditions you must abide by. There are often limitations such as distances to maintain from schools and public parks. Never look for housing within forbidden zones.
Also, be aware that you may be unable to access Section 8 housing facilities. Know that landlords will check if you are on the registry. Large complexes where there are almost certainly children will be off-limits.
Besides criminal history, there is also a credit check. In most cases, a good credit score for renting an apartment is at least 620.
Felons with long incarcerations have no transactions to build their credit. Even this score can be hard to achieve. To help improve the credit rating you can:
- Check your credit report for discrepancies
- Settle or pay down delinquent accounts
- Get a credit card and pay the bill on time
- Take up a small loan when you can afford it and pay installment religiously
- Start building up your savings
- Consult a credit advisor
Landlords can also get a history of your evictions. This is a problem as evictions likely mean you did not pay your rent on time.
Seek to clear this history by reaching out to your previous landlord. Agree on how you will settle the rent owed. Offer to cover the costs of any damage to the property while you were there.
Once you clear the debt, request to have the eviction record removed from your credit report.
How to Mitigate a Bad Background Check
Record Expungement or Sealing
Getting your record expunged or sealed means nothing will come up in the course of a background check. You can act like you were never convicted.
Expungement erases the record of your offenses. The only ones who can see it are those with a court order. Some law enforcement agencies may also have access.
Record sealing makes your criminal history inaccessible without a court order. That means your record will not appear in the course of an ordinary background check. Offenses that may qualify for this include juvenile crimes and witness protection cases.
The regulations governing expungement and sealing varies from state to state. Consult a lawyer to find out if you qualify for such relief.
Co-Signer or Guarantor
A co-signer is essentially like a roommate. As co-tenant, they have just as much right to live there as you. Having a co-signer with a good credit score and income can help swing things in your favor.
A guarantor does not, however, have the same right to use the property. They do however become responsible for covering rent if the tenant fails to do so. No matter the situation, they accept financial responsibility if rent is not paid.
If the landlord is weary because of credit checks, getting a strong co-signer or guarantor can help reduce anxiety. A guarantor is most welcome as the landlord can pursue them for rent payments not made.
Offer A Larger Deposit
This is a very simple way of alleviating any worry about you skipping out when the rent falls due. Most landlords will require just a month’s deposit to rent.
If you have the money available, offer several months’ deposit. Real estate is about making money and a lump sum is a welcome sight for many a landlord.
With a decent landlord, you do not need to worry about getting the money back. Keep the documentation safe and when you move out you should get the amount back.
Many states do not allow for discrimination based on a criminal past. But it is still hard to find decent housing.
While it may be your background check that makes them disqualify you, they will rarely tell you so. This makes it difficult to make a case against them.
To ensure they have no legitimate other reason to discriminate, make sure to fulfill every requirement. From how you speak to the landlord to compiling your documentation, ensure you are on point.
Remember that presentation matters so dress well and behave respectfully. You do not have to bring up your past, but if asked, be honest.
If you suspect you have been disqualified because of your history, contact your local HUD office for assistance.
Tap into as many personal and public resources as you can to get the help you need. Be reasonable in your expectations and consider compromises. More so is you have been newly released.
With time, make an effort to build a good reputation. Try to find steady work, build your credit, volunteer, and pay your rent on time, every time. The better track record you establish, the better opportunities for your future.