Authored by Joe Watson, Communications Director of American Friends Service Committee Arizona. November 29, 2020
To my friends with a conviction history, looking for a house or apartment, who think that nobody will rent to you:
I understand that this process can often be humiliating and it may keep you from reaching out to complexes or property managers because it can be a triggering experience. But, IMO, it’s worth finding the place you really, truly want instead of just a place that will rent to you. The latter could end up being an environment that may reinforce negative feelings about yourself. And you may end up paying more than you should because the system has limited your options.
Start by browsing properties on Facebook’s Marketplace or Craigslist. I’ve found that a lot of owners who advertise on these platforms are pretty fair to people who have a record. But don’t be afraid to just drive around the neighborhoods and visit properties you like, too.
I recommend talking to folks in-person (masked up and socially distant, of course), whenever possible. Based on what I’ve seen, most property owners will rent to just about anyone, in spite of someone’s record, if they get a good vibe from the potential renter. It’s much harder to put off good vibes via text or email than in-person.
Before meeting with a landlord, make sure you’re dressed like you really want the place. When you meet them, be nice and polite, but not cheesy. Be authentic. Be self-deprecating. Don’t be afraid to tell folks about your situation and also some of the things that show them why you’re a kick-ass human. For instance, you’re an artist, you’re a dad, you just got a raise at work because you’re the first one to show up and the last one to leave.
Should you have to make extra effort to show that you aren’t dangerous? No, you shouldn’t. But get yourself into a home first; change the culture later.
Once you establish a little rapport with the property manager, tell them straight up: “I just want you to know that I have a felony record.” That might be a dealbreaker for a few. Shrug it off and move on; you just saved yourself an application fee.
When you disclose that you have a conviction history, most people will then ask if the offenses involved harming children or animals, or if they were violent.
***Look, someday, our communities will understand that NOBODY is disposable, regardless of the nature of their past. Until then, I recommend that if your felony convictions fall into any of the above categories, reach out to the Southwest Fair Housing Council (SWFHC) or AZrsol and ask if they have leads that are favorable to your situation. But DO NOT put yourself in potential harm by disclosing these kinds of convictions if the property owner has already implied that they won’t rent to you.***
If everything’s still going well, fill out an application and pay the fee, but ONLY AFTER you’ve established that your conviction history will not be a deterrent to you getting the place.
Finally, if you know someone who’s a tenant at the complex where you want to live, and they know your history, don’t be shy about asking them to say something on your behalf. I can’t tell you the number of folks I did time with who’ve since found a really nice place to live based solely on the referral of a friend.
That’s all I got, y’all. Best of luck.