Tenant criminal history, whats so important?

12 Replies

Last summer I rented to a gentleman who had a colorful past however I had never screened my tenants based on criminal history... After 38 days it was clear that the landlord/tenant relationship was not going to work as he was already behind on his rent and there were some settle threats from him to me. I filed for an eviction, two weeks after he was escorted out of the property by the Sherif I was notified by the courts that I was being counter-sued for $5,000. He lost the counterclaim and was almost locked up for contempt of court by the judge due to a violent outbreak when the judge awarded me the claim rather than him. After the hearing the gentleman followed me to my car and yelled threats (none of which have come to pass).

I would like to avoid working with this clientele in the future and was wondering what words of wisdom my associates might be able to provide?  What "criminal history" do you allow in your units?  What don't you allow?  What would you recommend I use as future guidelines?   

Zero. Ziltch. Nada. None. 

On my phone interviews, I make this plain and it weeds out most of the riffraff. 

Make things easy for yourself. Life is too short. 

@Nicholas Miller , this is a tough experience I am sure many try to avoid as much as possible. But I would be careful and check Indiana laws, perhaps even consulting with an attorney if it's legal - I am gonna suggest it is not. 

In Mass, we can legally ask prospective renters the following only:

  • income and current employment
  • prior landlord references
  • credit history
  • criminal history

Our rental rental application include a full release of all credit history and CORI and we try to use CORI information with caution however, that means we offer the prospective tenant or tenants an opportunity to explain any past issues. When we did this in the past, on both occasions, folks sort of went look for a place elsewhere. I would also suggest you to check your state Sex Offender Registry and my wife and I decided NOT to rent to someone that was previously convicted of any sex crimes. This is the portion of the law you are eligible to

Also, here we cannot ask the following:

  • race, color, national origin, ancestry, or gender
  • children
  • sexual orientation
  • age
  • marital status
  • religion
  • military/veteran status
  • disability, receipt of public assistance, etc.

I am assuming it will be the same for you guys in IN. I believe if you deny a renter's application it should be based on financial reasons, such as questionable credit, income or rental history - those are the three I am aware of landlords friends and folks we know using so. Needless to say, careful screening of future tenants, while they can get expensive, they will avoid the hefty costs of evicting a problem tenant in the future.

Hope this helps!


Part b is liability.  If you knowingly rent to a violent felon or sex offender and the neighbor's suffer, you may be on the hook.  In some Texas communities the pervs can't rent within 1000 yards of a school, daycare, etc.

My experience renting to a felon.  He had been in a transition program for almost a decade, was holding down a job (riding a bike from the program to work, a distance of roughly 8 miles one way EVERY DAY since he wasn't allowed a car) and needed a rental in order to receive his final parole.  His crime had been setting his girlfriends trailer on fire "accidentally" when he found out she was cheating on him (she wasn't home at the time) 14 years previously.  "My" felon was a nice guy; his supervisors at work spoke so highly of him they provided him with furniture, pots and pans, silverware, even a TV for the rental as he had none of these when he moved in.  He was a guy in his mid 50's the time I rented to him.

First month things went well.  Second month he was a week late on rent.  Then things slid downward from then on.  He got himself a girlfriend (NOT the previous one) and in the 4th month went to a barbecue with her; someone hit up on her and he handled the situation by attempting to knife the guy.  Back to jail for Mr. Willie.   At that point I found out he had gotten himself a roommate; some guy named TJ who made HIS living selling drugs out of my house.   TJ got kicked out quickly (took my curtains but luckily left the appliances and the window air conditioners).  My son and I met some of TJ's clients as we were cleaning up the place.  A popular guy.

Here's the problem I see with some felons.  They do great in a controlled environment.  Mr. Willie had to check in ALL the time at the transition program and he was closely monitored even as he was getting ready to go out into the "real" world.  He did well under those circumstances because he had to.  It was when he was on his own and had to make his own choices that he did lousy.   We're going through the same thing with my partners brother he has been in prison three times in his life.  While in there he's a model prisoner; even became the wardens secretary once.  Now he's out after his third time but, hopefully, only for a short time because, it appears, he's cashed out/hidden at least 300K of his now dead mothers CD's while he was "caring" for her in her final days.

And that's why I won't ever rent to a felon again.


Misdemeanors I have no issue with. DUI/OUI, anything marijuana related Im ok with. The further in the past the record the better. I do not under any circumstance rent to sex offenders.

Ill add to the list...In addition to the drug dealers and sex offenders I wont rent to anyone with any domestic violence on their record. If they don't mind beating up a spouse or children they wont have any issue with trashing a house.

One issue to keep in mind....sometimes the only friends a RECENTLY released felon has are...other folks with a criminal background.  That's what "my" felon tenant had and why he seemed to have no problem subletting to a drug dealer (without my permission, of course).   Same with my partners brother; the "friends" he's had over visiting after he got out of his last "vacation" in South Carolina prison made me lock my purse in the car.  Something to keep in mind when cell buddies visit a tenant.

On another legal list I've been lambasted up, down and sideways by non-landlord posters for not giving a felon another chance by renting to them.  Explaining that for many who have such a history finding anything but the most minimal type of employment (remember criminal checks are often done for employment purposes too) will cause difficulty making rent means nothing to these do-gooders who often post without listing their names but spend a great deal of energy telling me I'll be frying in a dark space when I pass on.  Tickles me to no end to read those comments.

Originally posted by @Russell Brazil :

Misdemeanors I have no issue with. DUI/OUI, anything marijuana related Im ok with. The further in the past the record the better. I do not under any circumstance rent to sex offenders.

This is one of the better comments


I'm gonna disagree with some of the previous posters, but only slightly.

I'm very clear with my prospective tenants that I only care about two things:

  • Will you pay the rent on time?
  • Will you take good care of my property?

All the screening we do is really just an attempt to do the best job I can of predicting that in advance.

DFW is a very tight rental market. I only rent my homes at open houses - I'll hold one, almost always walk away from it with multiple applications, and can pick the best one, rather than just evaluating one by one and trying to find a legal reason to deny a prospect who meets criteria, but that I just have that bad feeling about.

I do not automatically reject tenants for felonies, but I have to see evidence that you've turned your life around. (Which implies that it's been a while since that conviction, of course.) 

One of my very best tenants had a felony 10+ years ago when he was a teenager. Now he's 30 with a wife and kids, holding down a good job, but still runs into lots of landlords who will auto-reject him because of the felony on his background check. A tenant like that is going to be sure to pay on time and take good care of the property, because he doesn't want to go looking for another house again. Other prospects with felonies, I've rejected because their "life turnaround" seems to be one of convenience.

There's a great, well-researched book out there called Three Felonies a Day. We are so over-lawed now that the average American commits three felonies a day, while doing nothing most people would consider actually "bad." (Hell, as a landlord and business owner, I probably commit four or five.) I actually care a lot more about bankruptcies, evictions and other things that indicate you don't mind leaving other people holding the bag for your bad financial decisions than I do an old felony.