Trying to build a meaningful career is always daunting, but when you have a criminal record, it gets even more complicated.
What professional license can a convicted felon get? Can you be a real estate agent with a criminal record? Can a felon get a real estate license? What does the process look like, and what kind of crimes will disqualify you automatically?
The short answer is that you need to check the real estate commission's guidelines where you live because every state has its own rules.
But as a real estate education provider, we're familiar with the process, which means we can help you understand the big picture and the likely obstacles you'll face below.
What States Allow Felons To Have A Real Estate License?
Can a felon be a real estate agent where you live? Technically, it’s possible in all states. A felony isn’t automatically disqualifying anywhere.
How likely you are to succeed will depend on the circumstances, as well as your state’s specific commission policy. Your real estate commission’s website will have the most accurate, up-to-date information relevant to you.
Let's discuss the process first; then, we'll get into the best and worst-case scenarios for getting your real estate license as a felon.
What’s the Process for Getting a Real Estate License with a Criminal Record?
If you have a criminal record of any kind, you’ll need your real estate commission to grant a waiver or approval for your specific case.
It’s best to be proactive. Many states will allow you to go through a vetting process before you begin your regular application if you’re concerned about eligibility. This can save you a lot of time and money if you’re going to be denied, so check with your real estate commission to see if this option is available to you.
For example, the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) offers a process called a Fitness Determination, available before your regular application for a $52 processing fee. It’s a 30-day process once you’ve submitted all relevant documentation.
When deciding fitness, TREC says they consider:
- The nature and seriousness of past criminal activity
- How the crime relates to your ability to perform a real estate agent's duties
- The age at which you committed the crime and the amount of time that has elapsed
- Your conduct and work before and after the crime
- Your compliance with the court-ordered terms and conditions
- Evidence of rehabilitation
- Evidence of your present fitness through letters of recommendation
As you can see, the real estate board will look for signs that you’ve reformed. The most important question in this process is whether you’re trustworthy today – that’s why it’s so important to be honest about your entire history as you apply for a real estate license.
Your best chance at getting a real estate license with a felony in your past is to tell the truth.
If you go through your state’s fitness determination and you’re denied, most states will let you try again later. You’ll want to learn all you can about your state’s requirements and guidelines, including how to prove that you’re a reformed and trustworthy citizen, then focus on meeting those standards before you try again.
What Disqualifies You From Being A Real Estate Agent?
When you seek a criminal history waiver or approval, your case will be judged on its individual merits by the Real Estate Commission’s review board. Some circumstances are more likely to be disqualifying than others, but the specifics depend on the state where you’re applying.
In other words, we can’t give you a clear-cut answer.
The two biggest factors in your case will be the nature of the crime and how much time has passed. The best-case scenario as an applicant is that you committed a non-violent crime with no threat to public safety many years ago, after which you complied with all court mandates and completely reformed your life.
Violent, sexual, and financial crimes on your record will be the most difficult to overcome. It’s common sense. You’ll be in charge of large transactions, have access to people’s homes, and accompany people alone to various locations. It’s important to consider if those people will be safe in your hands.
Beyond those categories, some states have specific crimes they consider red flags.
Let’s use Texas as an example once again. TREC considers certain crimes to directly demonstrate that you're unfit to perform the duties and responsibilities required by a real estate license, like representing someone else's interests with honesty, trustworthiness, and integrity. The list includes:
- A felony involving driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence (DUI)
- The manufacture, delivery, or intent to deliver controlled substances
- Crimes of moral turpitude, including fraud, misrepresentation, forgery, falsification of records, perjury, and paying or taking bribes, kickbacks, or illegal compensation
- Offenses against someone else's real or personal property, against a person, or against public administration
- The sale or disposition of someone else's real or personal property without legal authorization
- Sexual offenses
- Attempting, conspiring to commit, aiding, or abetting any of the above
- Multiple violations, either of the same criminal statute or different statutes
These aren’t automatically disqualifying, but you’ll have a very difficult time overcoming them.
In conjunction with the type of crime, they’ll consider how much time has passed. In some places, the clock starts with your conviction; in some, it starts with your sentence completion.
Some states have a specific number of years you’ll need to wait before they’ll even consider your application. Most waiting periods are two to five years (as in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Georgia, Mississippi, Idaho, Iowa, New Mexico, and Utah). In other places, it’s longer – seven years in Alaska, up to ten years in Massachusetts, and as long as twenty in Oklahoma. It may depend on the crime.
Deception or Omission During the Application Process
If you’re thinking about trying to skate by without admitting a spotty past, don’t. Almost all states now require you to undergo a fingerprint-based criminal history report or background check during the application process, so the truth will come out.
The application will also ask for a voluntary disclosure of any crimes or professional sanctions. A failure to voluntarily disclose infractions will automatically get your application denied. Even if you go years without discovery, they’ll revoke your license as soon as you’re caught.
How Far Back Does A Real Estate Background Check Go?
This will depend on where you intend to work. Background checks tend to be comprehensive or indefinite, but some states have laws that impose limits on the length of time.
California, Colorado, Nevada, and Texas all have a seven-year limit for criminal background checks. In the District of Columbia, background checks can only go back ten years.
Even in states where there are limits, there can be built-in exceptions based on the type of job you’re applying for. Colorado and Texas waive the time limit altogether if the salary is over $75,000. California allows employers to go back ten years instead of seven if the salary is over $125,000.
What Happens After You’re Approved to Apply for a Real Estate License with a Felony?
After you’ve gone through the review board process and gotten permission to earn your license, you’ll undergo the same process as everyone else, which always includes three things: completing your required pre-license coursework, passing your state licensing exam, and submitting an application.
Each state has its own pre-license curriculum, but the length of the coursework varies. Sometimes, it’s a lot – in Texas, it’s 180 hours, and in California, it’s 135 hours. Sometimes, it’s a lot less, like Florida’s 63-hour requirement.
Online courses are one of the most convenient ways to complete your education requirements – you’ll be able to study at your own pace, whenever and wherever you have time and an internet connection.
We offer online, self-paced, and commission-approved pre-license courses in many states. We recommend bundling them with license exam prep for the best value.
Register today to start earning your license immediately!
Written and Published by: VanEd