How to Get an Apartment For Rent in New York With a Criminal Record

If you're suffering with a blemish on your record, learn how you can clear your record. Get info on resources you may be missing out on.
Brooklyn Fall

It’s no secret that having a criminal record can affect you negatively, possibly for the rest of your life.

Besides preventing you from finding employment, receiving monetary assistance, or applying for college (in many states), having a conviction or even an arrest on your permanent record can negatively impact your ability to find a place to live.

HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) protects against discrimination based on gender, race, age, sexual orientation, and religion in housing matters, but does not explicitly state those with a criminal record as a protected class.

Know Your Rights

Even though HUD does not list those with criminal records or convicted felonies as a protected class, in a decision in 2016 interpretive of the Fair Housing Act, landlords may violate the law if they reject potential tenants with criminal records.

The landlord may provide a good reason for refusing residence to individual cases, but cannot turn down all applicants with criminal records without considering each person on a case-by-case basis.

Many crimes count as felonies, but not all should bar a person from obtaining housing.

However, common sense tells us that offenses like burglary, larceny, sexual assault, murder, arson, fraud, tax evasion, and drug-related convictions or misdemeanors like domestic violence may understandably prevent you from getting the apartment you want.

Be also wary that arrests and juvenile convictions appear on your permanent record and give the landlord a wrong impression even if you were innocent or the crime is ancient history.

If you feel you were unfairly discriminated against, you can get advice from a legal professional experienced in housing discrimination.

Make it Hard to View Your Record

For certain charges, arrests, and convictions, it is possible to seal your record or even get them expunged.

Sealing your record will make it difficult for anyone to review it, by making it necessary to get a court order to examine the record.

Expunging it will remove it completely and in essence, wipe the slate clean if the items are the only blemishes on your record.

However, be aware that this is not available for most crimes and arrests.

Juvenile convictions, arrests without charges or convictions, or having one or two sentences may qualify for sealing or expungement.

You will need to submit a request through a court.

Remember that sealing a record will depend on a judge’s willingness to agree to seal it, and there are many other considerations if going this route.

Certain convictions do not qualify for sealing, which include but are not limited to first and second-degree felonies or misdemeanors pertaining to violence or minors, DUIs, and use of a firearm in a crime.

Research what is eligible and what is not.

Furthermore, there is a long waiting period and a fee to get these sealed.

You must also not have any further pending charges against you.

For a better understanding of this course of action and best possible outcome, you should seek guidance from an expungement attorney or a firm that specializes in these proceedings.

Utilize Government and Community Resources

There are government-supported non-profit reentry programs explicitly designed to help former convicts become fully functional and contributing members of society, by providing counseling, advocacy, job training, and in some cases short-term housing.

Some great places to start are the Doe Fund, Exodus, The Fortune Society, and Providence House just to name a few.

Research and find other types nonprofits that can assist you in your apartment search.

Another resource available is the Housing Authority of NY.

You do not need a clean record to qualify for low-income housing.

This is not only a chance to find non-discriminatory housing but also to find a low-cost place to live.

You do, however, need to qualify financially.

You will need to make less than $50,000 a year to qualify as a single person.

Finding affordable lottery units may also be a possibility, so research which building offer this option through NYC Housing Connect.

Be in Good Financial Standing

The best way to make sure you are portrayed in the best light to a landlord is to show that you pay all of your bills on time, by showing you have great credit, and that you are currently employed and make enough money to afford the apartment in question.

If you have a great relationship with your employer, you can have them not only write up an employment letter but use it has an opportunity to attest to your work ethic and good character.

Displaying a robust financial profile may make the landlord realize that you have turned over a new leaf in your life and are a contributing member of society.

A Personal Touch

More often than not, you are probably going to get the best results from seeking housing from a private citizen or a smaller landlord.

They are more likely to really listen to each individual and consider the individual circumstance.

If the blemish on your record was a long time ago, or a one-time failure in judgment, you can personally explain yourself and provide evidence that you have changed your life for the better.

Larger management companies may have investors or other financial obligations that may make it difficult for them to overlook a criminal record.

Be flexible.

You might also seek out private owners who are renting out rooms.

Also, don’t rule out areas that are farther out.

Even though these might be inconvenient for commuting, if you have a landlord that is willing to bypass a background check, this may be the opportunity you were looking for.

Get Your Friends and Family to Help

If you’re finding it difficult to get an apartment on your own, you can recruit your friends and family to help.

Spread the word that you are looking for an apartment among your network and see if anyone has a vacancy through a social connection.

You can also ask if a close friend, colleague, boss, or relative can write up a good character reference for you to submit with your application.

If all else fails, you can always try to share an apartment with a friend or relative, or rent a room from them.

Do Your Homework​​​​​​​

If your criminal record is making it difficult to find an apartment, do not leave a stone unturned.

Do your due diligence and research online. Join support groups and network.

Look through every city agency and go through every resource.

Most importantly, give yourself some time to find that place you’re going to call home.

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Ruth Shin
About the author

Ruth Shin is the Founder and CEO of PropertyNest. She shares in-depth insights on real estate, personal finance, and home improvement drawing from her experience as a licensed real estate agent, editing personal finance publications, and managing many home renovation projects. Ruth graduated with a BA from Hunter College in Writing, History, and Special Honors.