Rental housing in California is already a difficult situation. Many areas in the state have far more demand for rental housing than they have supply, which means landlords will frequently reject people for various reasons. If someone has a criminal record and wants to apply for rental housing in California, they may learn that this situation is even more complicated. There are various state and federal laws involved. But recently, a Bay Area county changed its rental laws regarding criminal backgrounds that cause landlords in Alameda County to be held to a different standard than landlords in other parts of the state. Here’s what you need to be aware of when applying for rental housing with a criminal record.

What Are the Laws that Ban Discrimination in Rental Applications?

There are federal and state laws that prevent discrimination in rental applications. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Federal Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) are national laws that bar various forms of discrimination, such as race, religion, or disability. However, neither prohibits discrimination against people who have a criminal record. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which can be used by landlords, also allows criminal history to be accessed.

California’s Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act (ICRAA) does have some restrictions regarding reporting criminal history. Its restrictions include not reporting criminal history that’s more than seven years old. Any reported criminal history must be for convictions, not just arrests.

In late 2022, Alameda County in the Bay Area passed legislation prohibiting landlords from using criminal history as a means to deny a rental application. Whether or not other California counties will follow suit remains to be seen.

Are There Times When a Landlord Can’t Deny Rental Housing to Someone with a Criminal Record in California?

This is a gray area due to the high demand for rental housing. However, landlords aren’t allowed to refuse an application from someone with past drug use. However, if the applicant was convicted of manufacturing or dealing drugs, that’s a legally acceptable reason to deny the application.

Basically, landlords shouldn’t reject all applicants with any kind of criminal history, which could potentially be viewed as discriminatory. But suppose landlords can present a compelling case that the applicant poses a risk to the property or to the safety and health of other tenants. In that case, that may not be considered discriminatory. Criminal histories that include things like murder, assault, or arson would fit that category.

What Are My Options if I Have a Criminal Record and Need to Apply for Rental Housing?

One option is to consider applying to have your criminal record expunged. This isn’t an option available to everyone, but if you qualify, it could be the most straightforward route to clearing your history and reaching success in acquiring rental housing. Expungement means that the court will set aside the criminal conviction and dismiss the case.

Once that’s accomplished, the criminal history will no longer appear on background checks, and you don’t have to disclose it when applying for rental housing.

Who Is Eligible to Apply for Expungement of My Criminal Record?

Expungement is available to people who have successfully completed their probationary period and either didn’t serve time in a state prison or served in a state prison but would have served in a county jail if the crime took place after Proposition 47’s Realignment program, which can reduce a felony to a misdemeanor.

People currently facing a criminal charge, are on probation for a criminal charge, are serving a sentence for a criminal charge, or are convicted of certain sex crimes involving children are not eligible for expungement. People who served time in state prison for their conviction that wouldn’t have been eligible for the Realignment program are not eligible through regular expungement avenues.

If I Served Time in a State Prison for My Criminal Offense, Is There Any Way to Have My Record Expunged?

It’s a little more complicated, but there are a couple of ways that someone who isn’t eligible for expungement, as described above, can pursue having their records cleared.

Apply for a Certificate of Rehabilitation. This is a legal form that certifies that the convicted person is considered rehabilitated by the state and thus has earned the right to have crimes removed from their record. Depending on the crime originally committed, the candidate must have been free of criminal charges for a specific period, anywhere from two to seven years. The applicant must have lived in California for a minimum of five years.

Request a Pardon from the Governor. Similar to the certificate of rehabilitation, this can be requested between seven and ten years after the original conviction, during which time there may be no additional convictions. The period in which the person must remain crime-free begins with prison or parole completion.

What Should I Do if I Have a Criminal Record and Want to Apply for Rental Housing?

Give us a call as soon as possible at 949-305-7995 to set up a free consultation. We can evaluate your situation and help determine the best course of action. If expungement is possible, we will help you apply to the court and work for the best outcome. Expungement can be a complex, bureaucratic process that benefits from having knowledgeable, experienced criminal defense attorneys on the case. Call us today to learn what your options are.