Dealing With Tenants With A Criminal History

How to deal with tenants with criminal history

Photo credit: mikecogh (Flickr)

On your quest to finding the perfect tenant, you probably performed a diligent background check on the person’s references, credit, and criminal history. When you’re doing your investigation on a person’s criminal background, you need to be aware of the differences between arrests and convictions.

According to, an “arrest” is “to take or hold a suspected criminal with legal authority, as by a law enforcement officer.” A “conviction” is “the result of a criminal trial in which the defendant has been found guilty of a crime.”

In order to obtain a criminal background of an applicant, you can go through the local court systems to find public records of any criminal convictions. However, the procedures for acquiring criminal information on a person differs from state to state, so check with your state laws. Or you can go through a private screening firm who will get this information for you.

Some attorneys suggest that you should not use arrests as a basis for rejecting an applicant. Even though a person was arrested, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she was convicted.

Most attorneys suggest that you can reject an applicant for criminal convictions, not arrests. If you choose to reject an applicant based on an arrest pattern, you could risk being accused of discrimination. So, it is best that you focus only on convictions (because they were found guilty, whereas “arrests” do not imply this).

In fact, certain areas, such as the City of Seattle, are working to eliminate discrimination against those who have a criminal record. Check with your state laws to make sure convicted persons aren’t a protected class in its Fair Housing laws.

Before you start casting off anybody with a tainted criminal record, consider the following:

-       How long was the conviction?

-       Does this conviction have anything to do with a person’s ability to be a good renter?

-       Has this person taken the initiative to be rehabilitated?


Disclaimer: We know a lot about rentals, but when it comes to the law, we’re not attorneys. When in doubt, talk to a lawyer about any issues you have about arrests and convictions before you take action.