Should you ever accept a tenant with a criminal record?

Some landlords use tenant screenings to ensure they do not place people with criminal records in their properties. The logic behind this is that people with criminal histories are more likely to cause problems at the property and that they are too irresponsible to pay rent on time.
In reality, the situation is not that simple. There are several factors that you should consider before accepting or rejecting a tenant based on that person's criminal background.

What Crime Was Committed?
Not all crimes are equal, so it's important to know what laws a potential tenant broke. If it was a violent crime, then you probably have good reason to deny that person's application. You certainly do not want a violent person living in your property, especially if the property is in an apartment complex where he or she will come into contact with other tenants.
Dealing drugs is another activity that merits serious consideration. If you believe the person still sells or uses illegal drugs, then it's probably best to deny the application. You do not want to attract illegal activities like that to the properties you own.
Other crimes are less serious. In fact, people can go to jail for crimes that seem ridiculously small. CNN reports that people have been sent to jail for fishing out of season, skipping school, and failing to pay traffic tickets. While these actions are criminal in some places, few people would place them on the same level as dealing drugs and committing violent acts. In these cases, you probably don't have any significant reason not to accept a tenant with a criminal record that shows on their tenant screening.

How Much Time Has Passed?
The amount of time that has passed since a person was arrested, convicted, and released should also influence your decision. According to research from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 77% of recidivism occurs within five years of a prisoner's release.
If it has been longer than five years since the person's release, then there is little reason to think that he or she is still involved in criminal activity.
Again, you will want to consider the type of crime the person committed. You may feel comfortable accepting a tenant who was released on drug dealing charges five years ago, but you may not feel comfortable accepting someone who was found guilty of murder.

Make Sure You Do Not Violate Someone's Civil Rights
While it is fine for landlords to deny applicants because they have criminal records, you cannot deny them simply because they have arrest records.
There is a significant difference between an arrest and a conviction. A person who has been arrested has not been convicted of any crime until he or she has gone through the court process and has been found guilty.
Denying someone just because of an arrest record is usually a bad business decision. It could also put you at risk of getting sued for violating civil rights and fair housing laws. If that person were to contact the Civil Rights Office, you could face steep fines.
Keep in mind that it is also a violation of civil rights to exclusively run background checks on certain types of people. If, for instance, you only check the backgrounds of African-American applicants, a court may hold you accountable for discrimination.
Accepting or denying an applicant with a criminal history is a judgment call that most landlords will have to make at one time or another. As long as you approach the situation from a fair perspective, you can make a decision that will benefit your business without taking on more risks.

POSTED September 15 2015 10:10 AM

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