Criminal Record? Housing Tips:
What you should know if you’re facing charges:
- Are you in a subsidized housing program (public housing, Section 8 Voucher, Project-based Section
8)? If so, the outcome of your criminal case will probably affect your housing subsidy. Ask your
criminal attorney to talk with a housing attorney about the consequences of your arrest, conviction,
participation in a diversion program, or probation. The charge and the sentence may make a
- If you are convicted of a crime involving drug activity or violence while living in subsidized housing, expect a lease termination notice. Consult an attorney about your rights to dispute the termination.
- If you are applying for subsidized housing your criminal record will be checked. Get a complete copy of your record and attach it to your application so you do not forget anything.
- Lifetime sex-offender registrants can never be admitted to any federally subsidized housing program.
- If you have been convicted of methamphetamine production on public housing premises, you can never be admitted to any federally subsidized housing program.
- If you have a criminal record, expect your application for subsidized housing to be denied. Consult an attorney about your rights to appeal a denial of your application for subsidized housing if the crimes happened long ago, if you were arrested but not convicted or didn’t plead guilty, or if you have taken steps to change your behavior.
- If you were convicted for crimes that involve violence to people or property, expect your subsidized housing application to be denied. Consult an attorney about your rights to appeal the denial and to present facts about changed behavior and successful rehabilitation.
- Public Housing and Section 8 Voucher Programs have policies that cover admissions and evictions. You and the community can comment on these policies, including how criminal records are considered and used by the Housing Programs. Find out when your local Housing Programs have their Annual Plans out for review and public hearing, and suggest ways to improve them.
- If you are living in housing that is not subsidized, criminal convictions may result in lease termination action by your landlord, especially if the crime occurs on the property. Talk to an attorney about how to respond to a termination notice or an eviction complaint.
- When applying for housing that is not subsidized, your criminal record may result in denial of your application. Ask the landlord for the application criteria before paying the application fee to make sure you fit the guidelines. If your application is denied the private landlord does not have to provide an appeal process like subsidized housing does.
Know what is on your record. The slightest brush with the criminal justice system can lead to criminal records that can impact your housing search. Both Public Housing Authorities and private landlords may be able to access your arrest, court and conviction records. Before you begin your housing search, you might consider conducting a background study on yourself to see what potential landlords will see.
You can obtain a free copy of your court records from two places:
(1) The courthouse: For example, in Minneapolis, on the second floor of the Hennepin County Government Center in the Violations’ Bureau, public computers are equipped with a database that compiles all counties’ court records. You may search and print your records for free here.
(2) The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension: Write to the BCA to request your records. Hennepin County’s Self Help Center in the Government Center and the Council on Crime and Justice have sample record request forms that you may complete and send in.
Carefully read both records. Are they accurate? Are there arrest records that did not lead to a conviction, or are there conviction records that occurred several years ago? You may be eligible for an expungement, or sealing of the records. Contact the Council on Crime and Justice for more information.
Know the law. Many laws protect landlords when it comes to renting to people involved in drug-related
criminal activity, alcohol abuse or illegal drug use.
Those evicted for drug-related criminal activity are ineligible for public, federally assisted or Section 8 housing for up to three years. This includes possession of drugs as well as selling drugs. The housing provider has leeway to reduce that three-year period if the person has gone through an approved rehabilitation program or if the circumstances leading to the eviction no longer exist. Look at the housing provider’s written policies to see where you stand.
Federal laws allow public housing and Section 8 landlords to use discretion when considering applications from people with different types of criminal records. When writing their policies about applicants with criminal records, housing providers are supposed to consider criminal activities that might adversely impact the right to healthy, safe or peaceful enjoyment of the premises. They may have policies that allow them to rent to people with criminal records if the offense occurred “a reasonable time” before a person applies. Also, they must consider the nature of the criminal activity as well as how long ago it occurred.
If a person is denied or evicted from public or Section 8 housing based on a criminal record, the person must be provided with a copy of the criminal record. The person must be given a chance to dispute the accuracy and relevance of the record before the application denial or lease termination is final.
Be strategic about how you approach landlords. Here are some time-tested ideas to try:
- When looking for an apartment, search all newspapers, magazines and websites, and use word
of mouth. It is best to locate “mom and pop” landlords who own one or two properties and can
approve or reject your application, since in this situation you can sell yourself by explaining your
situation and what you have done to change since the negative behavior took place.
- Have your income sources available so you can share with the landlord where you work, who you
work for, how long you have been there and where you do your banking. Open up an account even
if you only put $5 in there. It’s better to fumble while looking for this information than to fumble in
front of the landlord.
- Fill out rental applications neatly and completely. You could even fill a sample form out ahead of
time and take it with you.
- Have the address of where you have lived before and, if possible, the contact information for the
landlord—even if it was a bad experience. In that case, tell your side but be brief.
- Be honest when you present yourself. With today’s technology, the landlord will find out most of
the things you do or don’t share with them.
- Do not apply for an apartment costing $900 a month when you only make $1,000 a month.
Landlords will think you haven’t looked at your other expenses, such as utilities and groceries, and
they will doubt if you will last as a tenant.
- Obtain a copy of your credit report so you know what is on it. If you have a low credit score, share
why. Keep the explanation as short as possible.
- Speak from the heart about your past and what you are doing positively now. Volunteer to clean up
around the building.
- If you’re in school or a training program, show proof of your enrollment when you apply.
- If you have a co-signer, be sure to say so. This can make landlords worry less about whether a new
renter will pay rent.
- Provide any letters of recommendation you have from the last year. Expect the landlord to check
with the person who wrote the letter.
- Be prepared to hear “no” a lot, but be ready for a “maybe.” When you hear “maybe,” ask when you
can meet them to look at the unit, and don’t ask a lot of questions.
Trying to keep your housing? Know the main reasons many tenants get evicted:
- Guests. Guests don’t always feel obligated to follow the rules like tenants do, since their name is not
the one on the lease.
- Annoyed neighbors. Small things that annoy the neighbors can lead to bigger problems down the
road. Playing the TV or music too loud or at a bad time of day can make the neighbors more likely to
watch you more closely, and they may be more likely to call 911 if something does happen.
- Pets. If it’s not in writing that you can have a pet, don’t have one.
- Communication problems. Be polite with the landlord at all times. If the landlord tells you there is
a problem, let them know you will take care of it and when. Let your landlord know when is taken
care of. Don’t share too much information about personal issues that don’t matter to landlord. For
example, if a window is broken during a fight, let the landlord know it’s broken and will be fixed, but
not why it is broken.
Watch your local city council and speak out against proposals that will make housing harder to find.
One big barrier is “three-strikes” ordinances. A “strike” is a disorderly incident, such as a loud party, a
domestic assault, or possession of controlled substances or unlawful weapons. A 911 call for any reason
can be enough to cause a strike. In some cities, even an incident, such as an arrest, that happens off the
property can cause a strike.
Either a tenant or a visitor can cause a strike. A strike stays with the rental unit for a set amount of
time—sometimes a year, sometimes longer. If three strikes happen in a unit, the landlord loses their
license to rent that unit, often for 5 years. These ordinances exist in Burnsville, Hopkins, Brooklyn Park,
and a growing number of other cities.
In Minneapolis, the policy is even more severe for certain incidents: prostitution, sale or possession
of controlled substances, or unlawful weapon possession, transportation, sale or use. A Minneapolis
landlord must submit a management plan to the police within 10 days of receiving notice of a strike. The
plan must be put into action 20 days after the police accept it. If not, the landlord loses their license to
rent the unit where the incident happened.
Because three-strikes penalties are so harsh, most landlords will not rent to people who they think
might cause a strike against them. Landlords usually view felony records and low credit scores as signs of
Your voice can make a difference. City council members rarely see opposition to three-strikes
ordinances, so they usually pass easily. Hearing some opposition could change that. Speaking out is
doubly important because, once these ordinances pass, they are hard to repeal.