how best to explain a felony conviction on a rental application.
January 22, 2012 9:32 AM   Subscribe

how best to explain felony convictions on a rental application?

one of my friends (BF) is moving into an apartment with another mutual friend (MF) of ours who we've both known for a very long time. BF and MF found an apartment yesterday that they fell in love with and they're turning in their rental applications in a couple of days.

MF has a felony larceny & conspiracy conviction (typical great-guy-makes-major-mistake situation; he stole a laptop from the megastore he worked at and was dishonest with detectives -- this was some five or six years ago). while this has never seemed to present a problem in his previous rentals, this building in particular is a bit more highbrow (as well as secure) and they aren't sure if the leasing office will be a bit more scrutinous. for what it's worth, BF has a long and positive relationship with the leasing company and MF has had no other convictions beyond traffic violations.

how can MF most succinctly explain this on the application (it asks specifically for an explanation on a separate page)? he's really fantastic guy who fucked up big time several years ago, and they're really concerned about how bad these convictions look on paper.

thanks MeFi!
posted by austere to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
He should look into the possibility of having it expunged.

Most landlords who inquire about felony convictions have a hard-and-fast rule about denying any applicant with any felony conviction.

Maybe your boyfriend should think about finding a different roommate.
posted by dfriedman at 10:03 AM on January 22, 2012

Is he absolutely certain it is a felony?

If so ... the best spin you can put on it is exactly what you told us. It is probably more prudent, though, for him to either lie or be prepared to keep looking ... perhaps in a more downmarket property.

I agree with dfriedman. The fact that they are asking doesn't bode well for your friend. They likely view it as a legal liability thing, and fear that if they rent to him and he ends up killing or stealing from another resident, they will be liable.

The fact that "he's really a great guy" probably won't make a difference. The close friends of felons universally say that.
posted by jayder at 10:20 AM on January 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is there a re-entry group (an organization that works with ex-offenders) in your town? They will have resources to help navigate this. There may be rules about housing; expungement may be possible. They may advise him not to disclose it, but they will certainly have suggestions for language to use.

I would recommend his explanation be as succinct as possible: Charged in connection with theft from employer (avoid the "dishonest with investigators" bit). Plead guilty, sentenced to 12 months and restitution. Served 3 months, repaid debt in full within six weeks. No arrests since. Prior rental reference Joe Smith, 555-555-5555. Former parole officer Frank Jones, 555-555-5555.

If he did not plead guilty, but went to trial, I would avoid using the word "convicted". I would just say "charged in connection with theft from employer, sentenced to X months and restitution"

If he served no actual time on his sentence (for instance, he was sentenced to 18 months, but was let go with time served), I would say "Plead guilty in connection with theft from employer, released for time served, full restitution was made within X months"

If he was not required to make restitution, obviously, don't mention it. If he did not actually make restitution, obviously, don't mention it.

The point is to downplay the "scary" parts of conviction and bring to the forefront the "responsible citizen ever since" parts of the story. That's why I don't suggest using "felony larceny and conspiracy to commit larceny"--those things can sound much more scary than "helped a co-worker steal a laptop" to someone who doesn't know the criminal code.

Even so, MF may well still be screwed out of this apartment--and BF should not apply with MF, if BF wants the place and has another potential roommate--which is a shitty thing and a whole different soapbox.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:25 AM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

IAMAL, IAMNYL, This is not legal advise, you should consider this a bagel for all practical purposes, or maybe a sprinkled devil's food donut.

If he's in California he may qualify for a 17(b) motion that can, after the fact, reduce the felony to a misdemeanor. I would be surprised if other states don't have their own version of this. This is particularly good because, again, in California, he's no longer a felon. Or, as far as the State is concerned, was he ever a felon. I've had clients who have gotten their voting rights back, their ability to own guns back, and qualified for various financial aid not available to felons.

So, my advise is to have him talk to a competent criminal attorney in his jurisdiction. Talk to a couple. Don't choose the cheapest.
posted by bswinburn at 11:04 AM on January 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

thanks for your responses. to clarify from what i understand (not sure that it matters), he served a number of weekends -- 2 or 3 months i think, and then did some community service. i know he's rented at a number of other properties without incident or issue. i will encourage him to look into expungement to avoid this trouble in the future, in any case.
posted by austere at 11:12 AM on January 22, 2012

Until he gets it expunged, the best course of action is humble honesty. There is usually a "rap sheet" thing you can get from your state that shows convictions, so he can get one of those and attach it to show that he's not lying about what he did.
posted by gjc at 12:22 PM on January 22, 2012

I don't agree. I don't think there's any advantage to being honest about it. If the landlord has a hard and fast rule, then he doesn't get the apartment if he owns up. If he says "no," then he has a chance if the landlord doesn't do that kind of background check. I look at this like a 5th Amendment issue: why should he kneecap himself? Let the landlord do their own vetting.
posted by rhizome at 1:44 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with rhizome. Don't disclose it. Lots of people don't realize their criminal convictions are felonies. And let's say the landlord does its own background check and catches the conviction -- so, your friend is back where he would have been anyway, looking elsewhere for an apartment.
posted by jayder at 2:54 PM on January 22, 2012

an update for anyone interested: my friend chose to be forthcoming and included a brief explanation with his application (largely borrowing the format suggested by crush-onastick). they approved him without issue and they signed their lease yesterday. thanks again everyone!
posted by austere at 7:34 AM on January 31, 2012

All's well that ends well! :)
posted by rhizome at 11:29 AM on January 31, 2012

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