Real Estate Licensing and Background Issues: A Comprehensive Guide

California Real Estate License School | ADHI Schools
Published by
Kartik Subramaniam
Reading Time : 12 minutes

Can I Get a Real Estate License
With A Felony?

Navigating the journey to a rewarding real estate career can be fraught with questions and uncertainties, particularly for those with a past marked by a felony or other problems on their background. As an aspiring real estate agent, you may be wrestling with a question that keeps you up at night: "Can I get a real estate license with a felony?" This question, while complex, is valid and deserves a comprehensive exploration.

Before you dive into this article, remember that the rules for getting a real estate license are different in each state. So, how a felony affects your chances can change based on where you are. But don't worry, this article is a great place to start learning about this topic.

In our commitment to provide a complete real estate education, we aim to shed light on this topic at our real estate school. We strive to equip you with the knowledge and resources to make an informed decision about your career path.

What is a Real Estate License, and Why Do You Need One?

A real estate license is a formal permission granted by a state to practice real estate. This license is a critical legal requirement for anyone looking to buy, sell, or rent real estate on behalf of others. It symbolizes a professional's credibility, competence, and adherence to industry regulations, ensuring trust between the agent and their clients.

A real estate license has many purposes. Mostly, it shows that the licensee has met their state's requirements, like taking the the right classes, passing a series of exams, and has gone through background checks. Simply put, this license is what makes an agent's work in the real estate industry official.

The importance of a real estate license cannot be overstated. It not only safeguards the interests of consumers but also provides a regulatory framework for the industry. By requiring agents to operate under a license, each state can maintain a standard of practice that promotes fairness, transparency, and integrity within the real estate industry. Without a license, an individual would be operating illegally, which can lead to hefty fines, penalties, and even jail time. If you're planning to apply for a real estate license in California, I suggest checking out this PDF from the California Department of Real Estate. It gives a clear explanation of how background checks fit into the licensing process in this state.

Background Checks and Real Estate Licensing

When considering a career in real estate, it's crucial to understand the process of obtaining a license. An essential part of this process, performed by every state licensing board, is the background check. Background checks are integral to the real estate licensing process for several reasons.

Background checks, typically in the form of fingerprinting, help to verify the applicant's identity and criminal history. They ensure that the person applying for the license is who they say they are and that they haven't concealed any pertinent information that could affect their eligibility for a license. The information discovered during these checks is then used to assess whether the applicant meets the standards of honesty, trustworthiness, and integrity expected of a real estate professional.

In California, there is a form that you need to take to a Livescan provider in order to get the fingerprint process done.

These checks aren't just a formality; they serve a vital role in maintaining the safety and security of the industry. Real estate professionals handle substantial financial transactions and have access to sensitive personal information. As such, it's paramount that they are individuals of good character who will uphold the industry's reputation and the public's trust.

By integrating background checks into the real estate licensing process, licensing boards try and mitigate risks. These checks allow them to screen out individuals who might misuse their licenses or otherwise harm clients, other professionals, or the industry.

In the context of a conviction, these background checks can present a hurdle to licensure. However, understanding their purpose and importance can help applicants approach the situation with clarity and preparedness, facilitating a smoother path toward achieving their real estate career goals.

Impact of a Felony Conviction on Real Estate Licensing

A conviction can complicate the journey to obtaining a real estate license. The presence of a criminal record, especially a felony, might raise questions about an individual's trustworthiness, responsibility, and ethical standing - qualities that are critically important in the real estate industry.

One of the primary challenges that a conviction can pose is the application process itself. Most state real estate licensing boards require disclosure of criminal history, including felonies, as part of the background check. If a conviction is discovered and not disclosed, the applicant can be denied licensure for failing to disclose properly.

Another significant challenge is the nature of the conviction itself. Certain types of convictions, particularly those related to financial crimes such as fraud, embezzlement, or money laundering, may be viewed more seriously due to the financial nature of real estate transactions. These convictions can raise red flags about the applicant's ability to handle clients' money responsibly and ethically.

The age of the conviction can also influence the licensing decision. Recent convictions are likely to be weighed more heavily than older ones, particularly if there is no evidence of rehabilitation or changed behavior.

It's also important to note that the final decision rests with the licensing authority in the state you are applying. The board will review the application, the details of the felony, and any accompanying explanation or evidence of rehabilitation provided by the applicant. This process can be subjective and unpredictable, making it another potential challenge for individuals with a conviction seeking a real estate license.

Despite these challenges, it's important to remember that a conviction does not automatically disqualify you from obtaining a real estate license. Each case is unique and evaluated individually, taking into account a variety of factors. Understanding these challenges is the first step towards overcoming them and paving the path toward a successful career in real estate.

State Laws and Felony Convictions

Navigating the path to a real estate license with a felony conviction becomes even more intricate when you factor in the variability of state laws. Every state has its own set of regulations regarding the impact of a conviction on real estate licensing. This can influence the likelihood of obtaining a license and the process and requirements.

For instance, in Texas, the Texas Real Estate Commission considers the nature of the offense, the relation of the crime to the duties and responsibilities of a licensed real estate agent, and any evidence of rehabilitation.

Texas also allows an applicant to apply for a Moral Character Determination

Meanwhile, the Department of Real Estate exercises a fair amount of discretion in California. While a criminal conviction, including a felony, may potentially hinder licensure, it doesn't automatically disqualify a candidate. The department considers the nature and severity of the crime, the time that has passed since the conviction, and any evidence of rehabilitation when making its decision.

In Florida, however, certain convictions can permanently bar an individual from obtaining a real estate license, such as convictions for crimes related to embezzlement, fraudulent practices, and racketeering. However, other felony convictions might not permanently prevent licensure, and the Florida regulatory body may consider mitigating factors or evidence of rehabilitation.

The variability of "felony laws" among different states underlines the importance of researching your state's specific requirements and regulations when considering a real estate career. If you're uncertain about the impact of your conviction on your ability to get a license, consider consulting with a legal professional knowledgeable about your state's real estate licensing laws. Remember, while the path might seem challenging, it's not impossible, and understanding your state's laws is the first step toward securing your real estate license.

Factors That May Influence Licensing Decision

When considering an application for a real estate license from a person with a felony conviction, licensing boards consider several factors. These factors collectively help the board determine the applicant's suitability for a career in real estate.

One of the primary considerations is the nature of the felony. The type of crime committed can significantly impact the decision-making process. For instance, felonies involving dishonesty, breach of trust, or money-related matters may be of particular concern given the fiduciary duties associated with real estate transactions. Convictions related to violence or substance abuse may also be scrutinized closely due to the interactions with clients and the public involved in real estate work.

The severity of the felony is another crucial factor. A felony is a serious crime, but not all felonies are equal. More severe felonies, such as those that result in lengthy prison sentences, might be weighed more heavily than less severe ones.

The time elapsed since the conviction is also a key consideration. If a substantial amount of time has passed since the conviction and the applicant has had a clean record since then, the licensing board may view the felony as a past mistake rather than a current reflection of character.

Rehabilitation plays a significant role in the licensing decision. If the applicant can provide evidence of having completed rehabilitation programs, made restitution, maintained steady employment, and participated in community service or other positive activities, the licensing board may view this as a sign of changed behavior and personal growth.

Lastly, honesty and transparency during the application process are paramount. Licensing boards value integrity, and being upfront about past mistakes can demonstrate responsibility and maturity.

All these factors— the nature and severity of the felony, the time elapsed since the conviction, and any evidence of rehabilitation— are carefully considered during the real estate license approval process. They comprehensively evaluate the candidate's suitability for a real estate career, ensuring that those who earn a license are fully prepared to uphold the standards and responsibilities it entails

The Impact of Expungement or Pardoning on Real Estate Licensing

A conviction expunged or pardoned can significantly change the situation when seeking a real estate license. Expungement effectively erases the conviction from your criminal record, while a pardon forgives the crime, both potentially making the licensing process easier. However, the steps to pursue this and the effect on licensing can vary widely based on individual circumstances and state regulations.


An expungement clears the conviction from your record, making it as if the conviction never occurred from a legal standpoint. This can be highly beneficial when applying for a real estate license, as you might (emphasis on might) no longer have to disclose the conviction depending on the specific disclosure rules of your state's real estate commission. However, the process for expungement can be complicated and usually requires legal assistance. The ability to expunge a conviction often depends on factors like the nature of the crime, the time elapsed since the conviction, and whether you've fulfilled all sentencing requirements.


A pardon, typically granted by a governor or the president, is an act of forgiveness for the crime. However, unlike an expungement, a pardon does not erase the conviction from your record. While you'd still have to disclose a pardoned conviction on your real estate license application, the pardon might help show that you've rehabilitated and your crime has been officially forgiven, which could positively influence the licensing decision.

In both cases, if you successfully get a conviction expunged or pardoned, you may still be required to provide documentation when applying for a real estate license. Despite the expungement or pardon, some background checks might still show the conviction, and having the documentation ready can help ensure no confusion about your criminal record.

Remember that expungement and pardoning laws and processes vary greatly by state, so it's important to research your state's specific regulations or consult a legal professional to understand your options.

Advice for Those With Background Issues Aspiring to Become Real Estate Agents

For those with a conviction who dream of a career in real estate, the path may seem challenging. However, with the right approach, persistence, and mindset, overcoming these challenges and succeeding in the industry is possible. Here are some pieces of advice to guide your journey.

Seek Legal Advice:

Understanding the legal landscape is crucial. Seek advice from legal professionals familiar with your state's real estate licensing laws. They can provide personalized guidance on the best course of action based on your circumstances. A website like Avvo is a great place to start.

Demonstrate Rehabilitation:

If you've made positive changes since your conviction, document these and present them during your application process. This could include completing rehabilitation programs, maintaining steady employment, pursuing further education, or contributing to your community.

Transparency and Honesty:

Be upfront about your past. Honesty and transparency about your past conviction are essential in the application process. Attempting to hide your past could lead to more complications and harm your chances of obtaining a license.

Education and Preparation:

A strong understanding of real estate is vital so that you pass the exam. In many states, you can't apply for the license without actually taking and passing the real estate license exam. Seek a quality real estate education that prepares you to pass your licensing exam and succeed in your future career. The knowledge you gain will provide a solid foundation for your real estate practice.

Stay Persistent:

Rejections may occur, but don't let this deter you. If your initial application is denied, understand the reasons, learn from them, and try again. Remember, many successful real estate agents have faced obstacles on their journey; what matters most is your resilience and commitment to your goal.

Maintain Hope:

While a serious offense can make things more challenging, remember that it does not define you or your future. Many individuals with similar backgrounds have built successful careers in real estate. Stay hopeful and keep working towards your dream.

Alternatives to Real Estate Licensing

Even though a criminal record can make obtaining a real estate license more complex, it's essential to remember that it is just one path into the expansive real estate industry. Numerous other roles within this sector provide opportunities to build a successful career, some of which may be more accessible to individuals with a past conviction. Here are a few alternatives:

Real Estate Investing:

Real estate investing is another field where a license is unnecessary. Investing in real estate can range from buying properties to rent out, flipping houses, or investing in real estate investment trusts (REITs). With a sound understanding of the market and solid financial planning, it's possible to generate substantial income from real estate investments.

Real Estate Development:

Real estate developers are responsible for acquiring land, securing financing, and overseeing the construction of residential, commercial, or industrial properties. While this career path can be risky and requires substantial capital, the potential rewards are high. A solid understanding of the real estate market, construction, and land use regulations is essential, but a real estate license is optional.

Real Estate Support Roles:

Many real estate agencies employ administrative staff, marketing professionals, or transaction coordinators who do not need to be licensed. These roles still offer immersion in the real estate industry and can provide valuable experience and insights.

Home Inspection:

As a home inspector, you would evaluate the condition of properties and prepare reports for potential buyers or sellers. Some states require certification, but the barriers to entry in this field can be lower than those for a real estate license.

It's important to note that while these roles may be more accessible to individuals with a conviction, employers or licensing bodies may still run background checks, so the same principles of honesty and demonstration of rehabilitation apply.

Remember that the real estate industry offers numerous opportunities beyond becoming a licensed real estate agent. If you're encountering obstacles in obtaining a real estate license due to a conviction, exploring these alternatives could open the door to a rewarding career in this dynamic industry.

In conclusion, a past felony conviction can pose challenges when starting a real estate career. However, these hurdles can be overcome with the right approach - seeking proper legal advice, demonstrating rehabilitation, being honest and transparent, acquiring a quality education, and remaining persistent and hopeful. Pursuing a career in real estate despite a conviction is a journey of transformation, and this journey can ultimately lead to a rewarding career and a fresh start.

Embarking on a real estate career with a felony conviction can seem daunting, but it's crucial to remember that it's not always an insurmountable obstacle. The journey to obtaining a real estate license may be more complex due to criminal history, but it is sometimes achievable with the correct information, preparation, and persistence.

Remember, a background problem is a part of your past, not a determinant of your future. With dedication, honesty, rehabilitation, and the unwavering will to succeed, a rewarding career in the real estate industry is within your reach.

In the realm of real estate, everyone has the potential to make a fresh start and build a thriving career. Your past does not have to define your future, and a background problem might not automatically exclude you from becoming a successful real estate agent. Stay determined, remain hopeful, and take the first step toward your new career today.




Remember our blog does not guarantee you can get a real estate license with a background issue. Obtaining a real estate license with a might be challenging, but factors like the type of issue, evidence of rehabilitation, and time elapsed since conviction can influence the decision. While it can be difficult, there are alternative paths in the real estate industry for those facing challenges with licensing.