Housing Resources (PDF)

Criminal Record? Housing Tips:

What you should know if you’re facing charges:

Know what is on your record. The slightest brush with the criminal justice system can lead to criminal records that can impact your housing search. Both Public Housing Authorities and private landlords may be able to access your arrest, court and conviction records. Before you begin your housing search, you might consider conducting a background study on yourself to see what potential landlords will see.

You can obtain a free copy of your court records from two places:

(1) The courthouse: For example, in Minneapolis, on the second floor of the Hennepin County Government Center in the Violations’ Bureau, public computers are equipped with a database that compiles all counties’ court records. You may search and print your records for free here.

(2) The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension: Write to the BCA to request your records. Hennepin County’s Self Help Center in the Government Center and the Council on Crime and Justice have sample record request forms that you may complete and send in.

Carefully read both records. Are they accurate? Are there arrest records that did not lead to a conviction, or are there conviction records that occurred several years ago? You may be eligible for an expungement, or sealing of the records. Contact the Council on Crime and Justice for more information.

Know the law. Many laws protect landlords when it comes to renting to people involved in drug-related criminal activity, alcohol abuse or illegal drug use.

Those evicted for drug-related criminal activity are ineligible for public, federally assisted or Section 8 housing for up to three years. This includes possession of drugs as well as selling drugs. The housing provider has leeway to reduce that three-year period if the person has gone through an approved rehabilitation program or if the circumstances leading to the eviction no longer exist. Look at the housing provider’s written policies to see where you stand.

Federal laws allow public housing and Section 8 landlords to use discretion when considering applications from people with different types of criminal records. When writing their policies about applicants with criminal records, housing providers are supposed to consider criminal activities that might adversely impact the right to healthy, safe or peaceful enjoyment of the premises. They may have policies that allow them to rent to people with criminal records if the offense occurred “a reasonable time” before a person applies. Also, they must consider the nature of the criminal activity as well as how long ago it occurred.

If a person is denied or evicted from public or Section 8 housing based on a criminal record, the person must be provided with a copy of the criminal record. The person must be given a chance to dispute the accuracy and relevance of the record before the application denial or lease termination is final.

Be strategic about how you approach landlords. Here are some time-tested ideas to try:

Trying to keep your housing? Know the main reasons many tenants get evicted:

Watch your local city council and speak out against proposals that will make housing harder to find. One big barrier is “three-strikes” ordinances. A “strike” is a disorderly incident, such as a loud party, a domestic assault, or possession of controlled substances or unlawful weapons. A 911 call for any reason can be enough to cause a strike. In some cities, even an incident, such as an arrest, that happens off the property can cause a strike.

Either a tenant or a visitor can cause a strike. A strike stays with the rental unit for a set amount of time—sometimes a year, sometimes longer. If three strikes happen in a unit, the landlord loses their license to rent that unit, often for 5 years. These ordinances exist in Burnsville, Hopkins, Brooklyn Park, and a growing number of other cities.

In Minneapolis, the policy is even more severe for certain incidents: prostitution, sale or possession of controlled substances, or unlawful weapon possession, transportation, sale or use. A Minneapolis landlord must submit a management plan to the police within 10 days of receiving notice of a strike. The plan must be put into action 20 days after the police accept it. If not, the landlord loses their license to rent the unit where the incident happened.

Because three-strikes penalties are so harsh, most landlords will not rent to people who they think might cause a strike against them. Landlords usually view felony records and low credit scores as signs of risk.

Your voice can make a difference. City council members rarely see opposition to three-strikes ordinances, so they usually pass easily. Hearing some opposition could change that. Speaking out is doubly important because, once these ordinances pass, they are hard to repeal.