WHAT IS A PRIVATE LANDLORD?
A private landlord is someone who rents out property that they own. They usually rent it out so they can make money. A private landlord can be an owner of a single property such as a house, townhouse, or condo, or can be a large company that owns apartment complexes.
Although private landlords may be your best opportunity at finding housing with a criminal background or felony conviction, you will need to navigate this search carefully.
IS IT BETTER TO RENT FROM A PROPERTY OWNER OF A SINGLE UNIT OR FROM A LARGE APARTMENT COMPLEX MANAGED BY PROPERTY MANAGEMENT COMPANIES?
Usually, large apartment complexes will immediately turn down an applicant with a criminal background or felony conviction. Part of their application process includes a background check. If your crime is something that could be considered a potential threat to others in the community, the landlord or property management company may be liable for any harm that comes to the other residents, which is why such an application will be immediately turned down.
DO PRIVATE LANDLORDS OF A SINGLE UNIT RENT TO PEOPLE WITH CRIMINAL BACKGROUNDS AND FELONY CONVICTIONS?
Yes, some do.
People who own one or several individual units may be more likely to rent to someone with a criminal background, especially if you can prove that you have the ability to pay the rent on time and have the required deposits.
You will usually have to sign a release for a criminal background check, and some request a fee to cover that background check, so it’s best to be honest and let a potential landlord know your history up front.
Be aware that anyone can put your name into the Maryland Judiciary Case Search and discover your background without going through a third party to do the check. Therefore, it’s better to be honest rather than appear as if you’re hiding something when it is found out.
IS IT DISCRIMINATION FOR A LANDLORD TO TURN YOU DOWN BECAUSE OF A CRIMINAL RECORD OR FELONY CONVICTION?
Yes, it is a form of discrimination, but more a form of personal prejudice. Unfortunately, in all likelihood you have no legal protection against it.
Only certain kinds of discrimination, such as that based on race, ethnicity, religion, family status and disability are recognized as illegal.
Convicted felons are not a protected class.
Even if your conviction is very old, and you have had no other contact with the criminal justice system, it seems unfair to deny housing based on a criminal background, but there is no law against it.
WHERE CAN I FIND LANDLORDS RENTING INDIVIDUAL UNITS?
The best way to locate someone who is friendly to renting to people with a criminal background or a felony conviction is by asking friends, family, or people in your church. These people have a connection to you, can vouch for you, and may have connections to others who would give you a chance to prove yourself.
Another good source of landlords renting individual units is Craigslist.com. You will need to contact them and begin immediately to build a rapport – from the first communication. First impressions are important and landlords are entrusting their property to your care. Make sure you give the impression that you are a responsible person.
HOW CAN I STRENGTHEN MY ABILITY TO HAVE A LANDLORD RENT TO ME?
There are many ways you can strengthen your ability to have a landlord rent to you. The most important thing is to be honest, upfront, and build rapport with your potential landlord.
Here are some things you can do:
1. If you contact a potential landlord by email (as is often done with Craigslist), make sure that you have a professional email name. It’s best to use your first initial and last name. Street names and names that are suggestive give a poor first impression. Names like Hotlips277 @anymail.com do no make landlords feel comfortable. Have someone read your email before hitting send. Present your best self in that first email. Introduce yourself, express interest in information about the rental, and request to see the property. This is not the place to divulge your criminal background
2. If you contact by phone, be professional and courteous. Again, this is not the place to divulge your criminal background.
3. If you set up an appointment to see the rental unit, be on time. You can be early, but by no more than a few minutes. It is best to wait for the landlord to walk you around the property, so don’t start looking without him/her.
4. Maintain a professional appearance. Make sure to wear clean, nice clothes. Take a trip to the thrift store and buy an outfit for this purpose. Don’t wear your pants below your waist, and make sure you are not wearing t-shirts with offensive messages. It is best not to have any message, as landlords learn a lot from t-shirts. Ladies should wear modest clothing and look professional.
5. Ask professional questions and be polite. Make a list of your questions before you arrive. This is your opportunity to develop a rapport with the landlord, so don’t plan to just look at the unit in silence. Appropriate questions show that you are thoughtful and interested. Ask about such things as average electricity bill, distance to bus stop, or parking. Let the landlord know your routine – and you should have one. This lets him know what to expect.
6. If you are interested in the property, fill out an application. If the landlord asks to do a background check, let him/her know up front that you have a criminal record. Just as you do for employment interviews, briefly explain what happened, explain that you have moved on, and that you are not that person anymore. If you have been communicating with him during your visit, you will have developed a rapport.
7. Have references available. If you have no previous rental history, get written references or contact information from people who know you and can vouch for you. Work on getting those contacts before you go looking for housing. Go to your local pastor and let him know what you are trying to do and ask for this kind of help.
8. Thank the landlord when you leave, shake his/her hand, and let them know that you look forward to hearing from them. Follow up with a thank you email.
Looking for a rental unit is similar to looking for employment. Learn to present yourself in a professional way when dealing with business. You have to sell yourself and let people know that you have seriously changed your life. There are many people who are willing to be a part of giving second chances, but be aware that you will be more closely scrutinized as a tenant.