As a real estate instructor, I’m frequently asked whether or not someone with a criminal record can get a Florida real estate license. The person asking usually wants a definitive answer, but of course the answer is always, “It depends.” I’ll explain how the process works for applicants with a criminal background…
On the Florida real estate license application, there are four questions about your background. Read them carefully before you answer them. The worst thing you can do is answer them incorrectly. One of the questions asks about your criminal history. If you have ever, at any point in your life, been convicted or pled no contest to a misdemeanor or felony, you have to check “yes.” Even if adjudication was withheld. Even if you were a juvenile. Even if the offense was so long ago, you forgot about it. Yes, this includes DUIs. Yes, it includes writing bad checks. Yes, it includes petty theft. It includes anything other than a routine traffic ticket like speeding or traffic signal violations. In addition to checking “yes” on the application, you also have to get the court documents. You need the arrest record and final disposition for EACH incident.
If you aren’t sure of all the crimes you committed, you might want to hire an attorney to fill out the application for you. An attorney can do the research to be sure that all of your crimes are included.
Here’s why it’s so important to answer this question correctly… the Florida Real Estate Commission (FREC) is going to do a background check, so they will know about your crimes whether you include them or not. If what you say does not match up with what they have, then in their eyes, you are a dishonest person. So let’s say you have an underage drinking conviction from 1990. Well, that was a stupid mistake, but it doesn’t make you the worst person on the planet. Most people in real estate would not consider you to be a threat to the public. But here we are in 2019 and you don’t mention that on your application. Now you are a little more of a threat to the public. FREC considers that to be strikingly similar to not include a meaningful piece of information on a contract. In other words, FREC wouldn’t care too much that you got caught with alcohol at a frat party 25 years ago, but they care significantly that you got caught lying today.
You can say that you forgot about it. In other words, you were handcuffed, thrown into the back of squad car, taken to jail, stood before a judge, and you forgot that happened to you? I’d give that a negative five on credibility.
You can say you didn’t know you had to include that. That will result in a commissioner reading the application to you, and questioning whether you have the intelligence to work in the profession.
You could say that you didn’t think it was important. That will result in a commissioner telling you that this profession is about disclosure. Are you going to be the real estate licensee who didn’t think it was important to disclose the septic tank problem?
Clearly, there is just no good way to defend yourself from lying on the application. So be sure you tell the truth on the application.
Once The State Receives the Application
So you fill out the application completely and truthfully, now what? One of two things can happen.
If you have a very minor offense, or an offense from a long, long time ago, they will likely just approve you with no further action on your part.
However, if you have a felony conviction, several misdemeanors, or a recent offense, then it gets more complicated. You may be put on the FREC Agenda. This means the commissioners will look at your application individually and vote whether to approve or deny you. So what does that look like?
This part of the agenda is called Summary of Applicants. The Commission spends half of the FREC meeting on this – one full day of the two-day meeting is the summary of applicants. There are usually 50-70 applicants on the list each month. If you are invited to this meeting, you should attend. You will have a chance to speak. Hopefully, your life story is not that you are a good-for-nothing louse who can’t hold down a job, gets arrested once a week, and skipped jury duty because you didn’t care. Hopefully, you can explain that since that underage drinking charge, you have turned your life around. You finished your degree. You have a job and a family. You volunteer on numerous boards. Basically, you are a fine, upstanding citizen. Whatever the case is, you are under oath, so tell them the truth (that’s a common theme in how to make this go best for you).
Depending on your situation, you might consider hiring an attorney to represent you at the meeting.
As soon as you are finished presenting, FREC will vote on whether your application is approved or denied. FREC considers the severity of the crime, how long ago it was, how you have changed your life, among other factors.
I wish I could say with certainty which crimes get approved and which ones don’t. The vast majority of applicants get approved. But it really is a case-by-case basis. I have seen murderers get approved. I have seen DUIs get denied.
I’m at the FREC meetings almost every month, so if you are on the agenda, please come up and introduce yourself.