Q: After consulting your book, "Property Management for Dummies," and speaking with an attorney, I found a discrepancy in opinion involving tenant applicants with criminal records. Your book said that I can deny a rental application submitted by a convicted criminal in order to protect my current tenants from having their items stolen. However, the attorney I spoke with said a landlord can deny an application only if it’s based on bad credit and income history, even if the applicant has a considerable criminal history and is currently on probation for stealing and drugs. Has the law changed in the past few years?
A: While I’m not an attorney, some types of criminal convictions can provide very valid and legitimate grounds to turn away a prospective renter.
According to your question, the attorney said you can deny an applicant based not on criminal history, but only based on bad credit or income history. But that is not necessarily always true.
A convicted criminal could have good cash flow and may even have excellent credit, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are not a threat to other tenants.
Having a consistent policy for conducting criminal background checks, and for rejecting applicants for specific types of convictions, such as violent crimes and property theft or damage, can be a good policy for protecting yourself and your tenants.
And you should ask your legal adviser about the types of convictions that may present good cause for rejecting an application, as this can be a tricky area for landlords who are trying to protect their other tenants and avoid violating the rights of the prospective applicant.
A convicted thief, as you describe here, may not be the ideal rental candidate. …CONTINUED
Please note that arrests are very different than convictions, and someone who has had even numerous arrests may have been completely innocent of the crime or crimes alleged. An arrest is not a conviction or grounds to deny an applicant.
I believe that applicants with a history of certain violent or serious criminal convictions could present a reasonable basis for the denial of a rental application, while applicants with minor convictions in the distant past could be solid rental candidates. Fair housing laws may require you to consider the type of criminal conviction and when it occurred.
But you need to be careful to not go too far, as you need to balance the rights of the applicant with a legitimate concern for the safety of your other tenants. A conviction for a non-violent crime or a minor violation of some law many years ago might not have any relevance now and would not reasonably be considered a risk to your tenants. When confronted with prospective rental applicants with criminal convictions, you are smart to seek additional information and contact your legal adviser before making a decision.
This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of "Property Management for Dummies" and "Property Management Kit for Dummies" and co-author of "Real Estate Investing for Dummies."
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