Can Landlords Run Background Checks?

Joseph A. Lazzara

We all need a safe place to live, especially if we are raising a family. But not everyone can qualify for, or afford to buy a house, so a large percentage of the population rents or leases apartments and homes in lieu of getting a 30-year mortgage.

If you are convicted of a crime, there are two major aspects of your life that a criminal record will affect: 1) employment, and 2) housing. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to explain exactly how criminal records affect housing, specifically your ability to rent an apartment or a home.

What Landlords Can Legally Do

When you rent a house or apartment, you need to fill out an application. The landlord will run your credit (you knew that), but did you know that they can also run a background check on you? That’s right and if they don’t like what they see; for example, if they see a drug possession or sales conviction, or a domestic violence conviction, or even a DUI, they can say, “I’m sorry, but we do not rent to criminals.”

Here’s how landlords tend to think:

  1. Because of his DUI, he could blow all of his rent money on booze.
  2. His domestic violence conviction means he could be a child abuser. I don’t want that kind of trouble.
  3. Since she was convicted of possession, she could use her rent money to buy drugs.
  4. His weapon offense could mean he’s storing illegal weapons and he could be dangerous to my other tenants.
  5. She committed fraud. She could be lying to me too.
  6. I don’t want her “criminal friends” coming around here and causing problems.
  7. Since she was convicted of prostitution, she could use her apartment to run a prostitution business.

Yes, landlords can run criminal background checks on applicants after they fill out applications; however, if a landlord finds out that you have a record and says, “Don’t bother applying. I don’t rent to convicts,” then you could be a victim of discrimination.

If you feel you’re being discriminated against because of your record, race, or gender, the Federal Trade Commission suggests contacting the Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

“Don’t landlords need my permission before they run a background check?” No, they don’t need your permission, though some will ask first. 

If you’re facing criminal charges and worried about how it will affect future housing and employment opportunities, contact my firm to start fighting!