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Tenant Background Check: Can You Rent to a Criminal Tenant?

Tenant Background Check: Can You Rent to a Criminal Tenant?

Everyone deserves a safe place to live. As a landlord, you have a duty to your tenants to provide that. But what if someone with a criminal record is seeking to lease one of your properties? What do you do then?

There are a lot of things to keep in mind when you see charges on a potential tenant's background check. We're going over what you can deny, what you can't, and where the gray areas are for landlords, below.

Arrest vs. Charge

The first thing you want to look at when there are criminal background entries on a check is whether the person was charged for the crime. People get arrested every day, but not all of them are indicted.

If your tenant was arrested but there is no evidence they were ever charged, you do not have the right to deny them. Assume that the charge was dealt with in our criminal justice system and move on.

History and Timeline of the Crime

We all go through hard phases in our life. If you have a forty-year-old tenant who has two charges on their record from twenty years ago, that's a reason to look twice.

If they were non-violent charges and it's clear that person is in a better place (no further arrests, good job history) then you probably don't have a clear reason for denial.

The Nature of the Charge

When you're renting a unit to a potential tenant, you have to maintain communal safety. When you rented to your other tenants, you promised you would do whatever was in your scope to keep them and their homes safe.

If renting to this specific person would jeopardize that, then you have the legal right to deny them. Violent crimes such as rape, domestic violence, assault, battery, and child molestation are all legal reasons to deny a potential tenant.

As a landlord, you have the right to protect your property. If the potential tenant's background involves property damage (arson, vandalism, etc) then you can deny them on that basis as well.

While these are all fair reasons to deny a tenant based on the Federal Fair Housing Act, you want to document as much as possible. Hiring a lawyer to look over your reasoning and any future communication with the potential tenant is a good idea as well.

You can also be held legally responsible for not running criminal background checks on your tenants, so having an attorney-approved screening process is a good idea.

Why You Need to Take Tenant Background Checks Seriously

If you deny a potential tenant and they believe it was due to discrimination, they can elevate the issue and create a lawsuit. Even if you know you were justified, lawsuits are expensive, time-consuming, and nothing to joke about.

Plus, if the case finds you did discriminate against them, you have no other choice than to pay the fine and take the punishment. You could appeal the court decision, but that doesn't guarantee anything.

Can You Rent to a Criminal Tenant? Yes, With Stipulations

As you can see above, renting to people with a criminal history is complicated. You can't just write someone off because there was a negative remark on their tenant's background check.

As a landlord, you already have a million things to do. Simply put, this is too important of a matter to handle on your own. Trust it to a professional property management company that has decades of experience in these situations.

Get the help you need here.

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