Leasing an Apartment with a Criminal Record in Pennsylvania
In any state across the country, apartment hunting is a difficult task to all apartment seekers. In Pennsylvania (PA), credit, background checks, and personalities can deter a landlord from renting to an individual in many cases.
Can a Criminal Record Prevent Me From Renting an Apartment?
Yes, according to the Fair Housing Act (Fair Housing Act 42 U.S.C. § 3601 – 3609). The FHA provides landlords can’t discriminate against a set protected class of applicants usually identified by race, age, disabilities, color, religion, sex or other similar classes of people. Constitutionally, the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment protects against state discrimination of protected classes; While the 5th Amendment protects against federal discrimination. That being said, criminals do not qualify as protected classes of citizens under the law.
Criminal Background Checks in Pennsylvania
In particular, Pennsylvania residents are facing a growing epidemic of denial of apartment ownership based on previous criminal records. A standard among most landlords is to run criminal background checks on all applicants for apartments. While this may not cause harm to most, certain lesser criminal offenders face homelessness from the effects of this practice.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness Annual Report and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development statistics state:
- PA had a 1.6% increase of homeless residents in 2015.
- PA had a 17% increase in homeless youth in 2014.
- 2,629 family members were homeless in Philadelphia in 2014.
- Homeless youth accounted for 6% of the homeless population in 2014.
- 12 out of 10,000 people are homeless in PA.
- 45% of homeless people in PA are within a family unit.
These statistics fluctuate from year to year in PA. But, they do shed light on the growing epidemic of PA homelessness and lack of housing for those who need it.
The youth and families are not the only ones forced into homelessness by their criminal records. To be clear, homelessness in PA can be caused by several factors unrelated to a criminal record. Money mismanagement, family difficulties and financial hardship can lead to homelessness and life on the PA streets. But, criminal records contribute to lack of housing. Underprivileged applicants to public housing are at a higher risk for homelessness if they have a criminal record.
Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) in PA have the ability to deny or grant public housing to the underprivileged. While discretion is broad, there are several factors that may cause denial of housing applications. Persons with criminal records, records of drug dealing, histories of violence, and sex offenders may face swift denials of public housing. These applicants have no other options for affordable housing and are often forced into life on the PA streets.
PHAs are able to analyze each applicant on a case-by-case basis to identify if they qualify for public housing assistance. PA public housing apartment applicants have voiced concerns that their criminal offenses are minor and committed in their youth making them a viable candidate for housing. Despite this, PHAs are legally able to deny housing applications at will which can be frustrating to minor criminal offenders who have changed their lives for the better. The rule is to evaluate the criminal’s act within a “reasonable time” from the criminal occurrence to the entry of the public housing application.
To be fair, PA landlords have denied applicants with criminal records to protect harm from coming to other apartment residents. There is also the issue of repeat criminal offenses being conducted by future residents allowed into the apartments. Here too, allowing criminals into the neighborhood may create unrest and potential problems within the neighborhood because residents fear for their safety. Research shows sex offenders face particularly challenging circumstances renting an apartment because their mug shots, addresses and personal information are readily available to the public.
How Can I Increase My Chances of Renting an Apartment with a Criminal Record?
Honesty is always the best policy regarding criminal convictions when approaching landlords to lease an apartment. Telling the truth upfront about past transgressions will create a relationship of trust between you and the landlord. People often forgive if given a chance. But, this strategy may not work with management companies or apartment complexes who must adhere to strict rental guidelines across the board to stay in business.
Speaking of forgiveness, an apartment applicant may want to try to get their criminal record sealed, expunged or felony charges dropped to a misdemeanor. These options may seem far-fetched. But, they can save apartment fees and disappointment down the line when the landlord denies your application. Reach out to local law enforcement or the court systems to find out if assistance is available to you to try this option.
Regardless of the remedy or outcome, PA apartments are scarce to those with criminal records. It’s better to start looking early for apartments and plan a strategy if consistently denied. With hard work and dedication, an apartment seeker with a criminal background may be able to find an apartment gem in PA. Don’t give up. Stay hopeful and reap rewards. Happy searching.
Call Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorneys Today
We have represented thousands of New Jersey and Pennsylvania residents and offer free initial consultations. To set up your free, confidential case evaluation, call a Bucks County criminal defense lawyer at the law offices of Young, Marr, Mallis & Associates today at (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania.