In the oftentimes complex world of professional licensing, there are many questions surrounding the application process, in particular that of real estate licensure, and the individual with a criminal background. Can you get a license? Are you allowed? What are the requirements and what kind of hoops will they make you jump through?

The purpose of this article is to then shed light on these questions, providing an understanding of the paths and barriers in obtaining a real estate license, the education requirements, exams, and background checks involved in the process, as well as state-based nuances in legislation, allowing one to achieve this professional goal, despite having a felony conviction on their record.


Yes, it is possible. Obtaining a real estate license with a felony largely depends on your state and the nature of the felony, as some states provide clear guidelines that disallow felons from obtaining a real estate license. However, other states may review each case on an individual basis, taking into consideration the nature of the crime committed, when it occurred, and any evidence of rehabilitation.

Commonly, crimes that involve dishonesty, breach of trust, or theft can result in automatic disqualification, as they directly relate to the responsibilities of a real estate agent, but in some cases, a felon may obtain a real estate license if enough time has passed since the conviction, or if they can provide compelling evidence of rehabilitation. Evidence of rehabilitation may include completion of a treatment program, having a steady job, and character references.

Real Estate Licensing Requirements

Understanding Real Estate Licensing Requirements

To become a real estate agent, specific requirements must be met depending on the state you wish to practice in. Typically, applicants must pass a pre-license education course covering a variety of topics, such as ethics in real estate, contracts, property management, and real estate law. Upon completion of this education, prospects must then pass a real estate licensing examination that tests knowledge on both federal real estate laws and state-specific laws.

In addition to the education and exam requirements, individuals must also submit to a background check. This background check is used to ensure the individual is of good character and has not been involved in any activity that may compromise their ability to work as a fiduciary.

Background Checks in Real Estate Licensing

As part of the licensing process, applicants are usually required to undergo a thorough background check. This check often involves providing fingerprints for an FBI criminal background check. In some states, it may even involve a check of the individual’s financial history. These checks are used to verify the truthfulness of the information on the application, and to determine if there are any past actions that may disqualify the individual from obtaining a license.

Understanding the Role of Regulatory Bodies

When it comes to acquiring a real estate license, the entire process falls under the jurisdiction of state-specific real estate commissions. These organizations are the ones who grant licenses, handle license renewals, and implement the real estate laws specified by the state. The who, when, and how of real estate licenses are all determined by these commissions, and it is of utmost importance to familiarize yourself with your state’s specific regulations if you aspire to join the field of real estate.

What is the Impact of a Felony on Licensing Eligibility

The Possible Effects of a Felony on Real Estate Licensure

It is crucial to note that having a felony on your record could potentially impact your chances of receiving a real estate license. Each state has its own set of rules for handling such cases, so your location could play a large part in whether or not you are eligible. Despite the variance in regulations state-to-state, a common requirement is for candidates to exemplify good moral standing and reliability.

Type of Felony Involved

The type of felony you have been convicted of can also have a significant bearing on your licensing prospects. Violent crimes, financial crimes, and offenses involving dishonesty or moral turpitude can strongly affect the decision. These types of felonies strike at the heart of what real estate practitioners are entrusted with – responsibility, honesty in dealing with the public, and handling large amounts of money. A background revealing these types of felonies could suggest a risk to customers and to the real estate profession’s integrity.

Relevance and Timeframe of the Felony

State regulatory bodies may also consider the timeframe and relevance of a felony when evaluating a prospective licensee’s application. An aging offense might not weigh as heavily compared to recent crimes. Similarly, a felony that has no direct bearing on the practice of real estate may carry less weight than one directly connected to such practices. For instance, a drug possession conviction from twenty years ago would not impact your ability to obtain a license as much as a recent conviction for mortgage fraud.

A Case-by-Case Review

Practically all states handle this issue on an individual basis, which gives people with a felony on their record an opportunity to explain their offense and what they have done to rehabilitate since the incident. Providing a thorough account of your crime, expressing remorse, and detailing efforts at rehabilitation may improve your chances in obtaining a license.

State-Specific Regulations

Different states have different levels of strictness. For instance, in states like New York and Maine, applicants with a felony conviction can still apply for a license right away, but the application will likely come under more scrutiny. California, on the other hand, puts forth strict enforcement and may reject candidates with specific felony convictions. Kansas denies licensure to anyone with a felony conviction in the past ten years unless they can provide substantial proof of rehabilitation.

A State-by-State Guide

State Considerations on Felony Convictions

The United States upholds foundational principles that offer opportunities for rehabilitation to those with past criminal convictions. However, each state comes with its own set of rules when it comes to approving real estate license applications from those with a felony conviction. Regulations may differ considerably across state lines, often based on the severity of the felony and the duration since the conviction.

California: Looking at the Individual

The California Department of Real Estate (DRE) completes a background check on all applicants. If a felony is uncovered, the DRE will evaluate the nature, severity, and recency of the crime. It will also consider evidence of rehabilitation. There are no specific felonies that automatically disqualify an individual, but crimes related to property and finances are often deemed more relevant to real estate licensure.

Florida: Specific Limitations

In contrast, Florida provides a list of specific crimes that will cause the Florida Real Estate Commission (FREC) to deny licensure. This list includes crimes related to the real estate profession such as fraud, embezzlement, and forgery. However, applicants can request a review of their case after a specific period of time, ranging from 5 to 15 years from the time of their conviction.


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Texas: Restrictions Based on the Type of Felony

The Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) may deny an application if the applicant has been convicted of a felony that directly relates to duties and responsibilities of the real estate license. This includes crimes such as fraud, theft, or any crime involving moral turpitude.

New York: A Case-by-Case Assessment

New York requires all applicants with a felony conviction to provide a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities before their application can be reviewed. The state reviews these applications on a case-by-case basis.

The Role of Disclosure

In all states, disclosing all felony convictions is a crucial part of the application process. If a state finds undisclosed criminal history during a background check, this may lead to an immediate denial due to lack of honesty.

Rehabilitation and Appeal Processes

Many states, like California and Florida, offer a chance for individuals with felony convictions to present evidence of rehabilitation. This could include community service, completion of probation, or evidence of a steady job. Most states also have an appeal process where applicants can request the state to review a denial of licensure.

Once again, a felony conviction should not prevent one from pursuing and obtaining a real estate license. Each state has unique regulations and procedures in place to assess the eligibility of license applicants with felony convictions. Factors like honesty, rehabilitation, and commitment can often positively influence the decision-making process.


1. Delving Deeper into the Conviction

Though navigating the process of obtaining a real estate license with a felony can be challenging, it is important to note that it’s not an insurmountable obstacle. Factors such as the nature of the crime, the time elapsed since the sentence was concluded, and the specific state laws will all influence the outcome. Licensing bodies conduct thorough assessments of all felony records as part of the process, and the exact procedures can differ from one state to another.

2. Fulfilling Real Estate Licensing Requirements

Regardless of a felony conviction, all aspiring real estate agents must fulfill standard pre-licensing requirements. This typically includes completion of a certain number of study hours in real estate courses and clearing the state-level real estate licensing exam. Some states also require completion of a background check.

3. Background Check Requirements

A critical aspect of obtaining a real estate license in several states in the United States includes undergoing a mandatory background check. This check can create difficulties for individuals with criminal convictions, particularly those with felony offenses. Background checks are typically conducted to assess the character of an individual, and a felony could raise concerns about trustworthiness and integrity in a field like real estate, where such traits are paramount. It is important to note that different states have different rules regarding whether or not a felony conviction would disqualify the individual.

4. Disclose Your History Candidly

Honesty and transparency are keys in seeking a real estate license. It is crucial for aspiring agents to disclose their criminal history completely and honestly. Leaving out details, or worse, providing false information, will likely lead to license denial. More serious offenses, such as fraud or violent crimes, may lessen the chance of obtaining a license, but full disclosure is always better than an attempt to hide information.

5. Expungement: A Great Viable Option

An expungement functions as a legal procedure that “erases” a felony from an individual’s criminal record. Expunged records aren’t typically available for public access, and the individual can legally inform potential employers or state licensing authorities that they have not been convicted of a crime. Of course, not all felonies can be expunged and the laws and processes vary greatly from state to state.

6. Change and Growth

Often, boards will decide on a case-by-case basis, looking at the time that has passed since the conviction, the severity and relevance of the crime, and the steps taken by the individual towards rehabilitation. Demonstrating personal growth or rehabilitation can enhance the chances of obtaining a license. This could include evidence of employment, community service, therapy, rehabilitation programs, character references, or any other indicators of personal change and growth.

7. Legal Counsel and Appeals

Seeking legal counsel can help to navigate this process and develop a strategy for approaching the licensing board with conviction-related issues. Attorneys can advise on the appeals process if a license application is initially denied, and some states allow felons to appeal their case to the Real Estate Commission or Board if they are denied a license due to their criminal history. The appeals process might involve presenting evidence of rehabilitation and letters of good character to the appeal board.

8. Waiting Periods

Some states have a waiting period or a cooling off period after a felony conviction before you can apply for a real estate license. This time period varies by state and nature of the felony. After this period, applications are more likely to be considered. Overall, while the road to obtaining a real estate license with a felony may be difficult, with the right steps and strategies, it is not an impossible task. Each individual’s journey to obtaining a real estate license is unique, particularly for those navigating the added burden of a felony conviction.

The Conclusion

It is important to note that the presence of a felony on one’s record may complicate, but by no means necessarily eliminate an individual from obtaining a real estate license. Variables including the nature and age of the felony play a huge role in determining eligibility. Furthermore, each state’s perspective on this matter, heavily framed by its unique laws and regulations, are critical factors to consider.

From understanding the details of expungement and appeals process, to presenting a compelling timeline of personal growth, change, and rehabilitation, it is evident that the path to acquiring a real estate license (even with a past felony) is open, yet requires hard work, patience, tenacity, and careful planning in order for one to succeed.

-The Educated Felon