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Can I Add a Felon to My Lease?

Can I Add a Felon to My Lease?

Renting can be a complicated world to navigate, especially when it comes to adding someone with a criminal record to the lease. Both landlords and tenants find themselves in a precarious situation wondering about legalities, risks, and questions of ethics

This guide tries to give an in-depth look into the question, “Can I add a felon to my lease?” Attempting to answer this from every angle possible, including legal perspectives, background checks and what they entail, as well as how that effects landlords and existing tenants alike, this article is meant to provide you with a balanced view that will aid your decision-making process.

Who is Considered a Felon?

A felon is anyone convicted of a felony, which is more serious than a misdemeanor and punishable by fines, probation, parole, or imprisonment. Felonies include murder, armed robbery, burglary, and arson. White-collar crimes like fraud and embezzlement are included.

They have more complicated legal consequences than housing, employment, or voting. Understanding this is important to consider when adding a felon to a lease, as there is an extensive gamut of felonious activities, each with its own set of concerns and societal stigmas.

So Can I Add a Felon to My Lease?

The answer to this question varies depending on several factors. Lease agreements and landlord policies can differ significantly, and state laws also come into play. For most property lease agreements, there may be clauses specifically prohibiting individuals with felony convictions from living at the property.

However, in many cases, landlords and property management companies are more lenient if the felony is non-violent, old, or there has been evidence of rehabilitation.

For example, if the felony conviction is more than seven years old and this person has kept a steady job and clean record since then, some landlords may be willing to cut an exception. It’s important to read through the lease very carefully for any restrictions, and have a sit-down talk with your landlord or property manager before making any decisions.

Can A Felon Pass A Rental Background Check?

Background checks by individual landlords are common practice in the U.S. The answer to whether a felon is likely to pass this check isn’t straightforward. Some background checks look for criminal history only, while others also examine credit score and rental history and possible social media activity.

These laws exist in states such as California and New York in order to prevent automatic disqualification based upon a felony conviction. If he has rehabilitated himself or herself and holds down steady work where he can provide good references, perhaps some landlords will be willing to turn a blind eye toward the past conviction.

Let’s say John is a tenant applicant who has been convicted of a non-violent crime ten years ago and since then has held a steady job. His rental history reveals that he pays his rent in full and on time. The landlord may be more prone to approve his application.

If you want to know how long a background check typically takes, read this post.

How Many Years Back Does a Rental Background Check Go?

Depending on state laws and individual landlord policies, the range of a rental background check could differ, but usually speaking, background checks could go back seven years. Some might reach as far back as the person’s 18th birthday.

The Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) does limit certain types of negative information reporting to seven years, but there are exceptions for criminal convictions. Some states permit landlords to really dig into an applicant’s past. Know the scope and limitations of these checks before approaching your landlord with a request that felonies be added to your lease.

Can A Landlord Legally Refuse To Rent To A Felon?

Legally, the landlord is free to deny his property owned to felons. However, this decision comes in an enclosed format within federal regulations and state and local laws. Under legislation like Federal Fair Housing Act, no act committed by a landlord shall discriminate against tenants based on race, religion, sex identity, or other protected classifications; though felonies don’t fall into those classifications.

Some local and state laws provide protections for potential renters with felony histories, but they aren’t common across America. Still, blanket policies that automatically disqualify anyone with a felony conviction could be seen as unfair by some state laws because they may hurt minority communities more than others.

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Risks for Landlords Adding a Felon Tenant to the Lease

A landlord has to strike a balance between his obligation to provide fair housing opportunities and his duty to provide safety and security for all tenants. There are certain risks that a felon on a lease may pose to the landlord.

For instance, should he commit a crime on the property, there could be legal ramifications as well as some smudging of any reputation that the landlord might have had. Financially speaking, it is an issue in that an errant tenant may put rent payments at risk, either through an inability to find employment or other socio-economic factors. Tenants already living there may feel uncomfortable, which leads to vacancies that affect the bottom line for the landlord.

Because of these risks, a landlord might ask tenants to sign a new lease which has some extra rules and stipulations to cover their back.

Risks for Other Tenants Adding a Felon Tenant to Their Lease

For those who are already living there, adding a felon to the lease can have social and safety implications. While one should not stigmatize anyone based on his or her past, it is important to consider what would keep all those living on that property comfortable and safe. 

Some tenants may feel uncomfortable living so close to someone with a felony record if the crime was violent or sexual in nature; this discomfort could sour relationships between neighbors and create an unpleasant living environment, which is contrary to the communal spirit a rental property should have. In addition, should the felon commit another offense while staying on the property, other tenants could be at risk of harm both physically and emotionally.

What To Do If a Landlord Refuses to Add a Felon to the Lease

There are avenues of recourse if a landlord refuses to add someone with felonies. First, determine why they are refusing; if it is policy based upon the lease agreement, there may be little recourse other than persuasion.

Appeal to the discretion of the landlord by offering additional documentation in support of rehabilitation and responsible behavior. Seek legal advice where local or state laws offer protections against discrimination because of a criminal history.

Sometimes third-party services can speak for an individual as another safety net in the form of extra security deposits or rent insurance from such businesses.

Tips to Persuade Your Landlord to Allow a Felon on the Lease

To convince your landlord, nothing works better than transparency and proof of rehabilitation. Documents like certificates from rehabilitation programs, character references, proof of employment, or any other indicators of stability work best.

If the felony is old, then emphasize the passage of time without any further crime being committed during that period. An in-person meeting between the landlord and the individual can ease any concerns. You can also try offering a larger security deposit to reassure the landlord. 


Q: What are the general state laws for renting to felons?

A:  State laws differ greatly. Some states afford more protection to people with criminal histories than others, but it’s always best to check your state and local codes.

Q: Can a felony be expunged to pass a background check?

A: The possibility of expungement depends on the state and the nature of the felony. If a felony is successfully expunged, it generally should not appear in subsequent background checks. However, it’s essential to note that expungement is not a guaranteed outcome.

Q: Can I be evicted if my landlord discovers I have a felony after approving my lease?

A: If you did not disclose your felony conviction during the lease application process and your landlord later discovers it, they may have grounds for eviction based on your failure to provide accurate information.


Adding a felon to a lease is a complicated topic that raises both legal and moral questions. While most states do offer the ability to add felons in some circumstances, it takes careful steps and mindful consideration of the risk involved, as well as many governing laws and regulations. Communication, research, and fairness regarding all parties concerned are the keys to success in navigating this subject.

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