Everyone has a past, and when you are screening potential residents for vacant properties, you may be tempted to forgive and forget – a criminal history, that is. Is it really a big deal if a resident has something in their past if they seem responsible enough today? Could you lease a property to him/her anyway?
The problem with welcoming someone with a criminal past to live in your property is that there is a major liability issue. If your resident commits a crime that results in legal ramifications, the property and management could be held responsible. This is particularly true if the criminal activity has a negative impact on the neighbors – your other residents. If there is drug activity around children, an assault occurs with another resident as a victim, or there are some other dangerous activities taking place on the property, then you could be in trouble.
This is why criminal background checks are also such an important part of tenant screening services – you can’t claim ignorance here. Whether you were aware before they moved in or not, you still play a role as the property manager, so being diligent is essential. If you still feel strongly about renting to someone you think has turned their life around, then look at all of the other factors. Ensure that you get a grasp of their recent job history, their credit standing, and even personal references. All of this may indicate that you may have a resident that’s turned their life around, although that can never be guaranteed.
At the end of the day, you’ve either got to play it safe or go with your instincts – and after many years of screening prospective residents as a property manager, you’ve probably got them honed. (Check out this post on exactly how to do it with AppFolio.) Just make sure you always remember that you’re taking a risk. It could also be something that requires discussion with the property owner to get a grasp for their feelings on the issue. Some prefer to avoid people with a criminal background regardless of the circumstances.
Be aware, though, that in the case of people convicted of drug use The Fair Housing Acts protect anyone convicted of such crimes. However, conviction for other drug-related crimes may be fair reason for refusing an applicant. The safest thing to do is to always seek legal counsel.