You won’t be surprised to learn that the answer to this question is “depends.” As I’ve already touched on before, each state is permitted to determine its own professional licensure rules, and each state does so for real estate agents. So, whether or not a felon can obtain a real estate license depends on state law.
Unlike the question I received a few weeks ago about whether a high school diploma is required to obtain a real estate license, most state laws address this issue. For example, in Alabama, in order to obtain a real estate license an applicant may “not have been convicted of a felony or a crime involving moral turpitude.” Clear enough. Other states' requirements, however, are a bit murkier. For example, Arizona’s requirements read like this:
“The Department [of Real Estate Ageny] CANNOT issue a license to a person convicted of a felony that is incarcerated, paroled or under community supervision or on probation. The Department MAY NOT issue a license to a person who has been convicted of a felony, or convicted of a misdemeanor offense such as (but not limited to) theft, forgery, extortion, conspiracy to defraud, violence against another person, or crimes of moral turpitude. Repeated DUI and/or Domestic Violence convictions do not demonstrate good character and may result also in denial of an application.”
Accordingly, if a person has been convicted of a felony and is still carrying out the sentence for the felony, the Department is not permitted to issue a license. If, however, the person has been convicted of a felony and completed the sentence or the person has committed misdemeanors or otherwise failed to demonstrate good moral character, the Department may choose whether or not to issue a license. In short, maybe you can, may you can’t get a real estate license if you’re a felon in Arizona.
Since real estate licensing boards can reject applicants for reasons other than what is legal, even if a state allows felons to obtain real estate licenses, they may not be approved for one by the licensing board. Since many states, as you see in the Arizona and Alabama examples, have some sort of “moral turpitude” clause, any applicant may be rejected for displaying conduct that is deemed dishonest or immoral. An applicant who has a felony conviction on his record is certainly a candidate who could be rejected because of moral turpitude.
A person convicted of a felony is automatically barred from getting a real estate license in New York State. The automatic bar can be removed with a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities, Certificate of Good Conduct, or an executive Pardon from the governor. The three options can restore many of an ex-felons rights, including the right to get a real estate salesperson/broker license, to vote, and to serve in a jury. However, even though the “automatic” bar to employment and licensure may be removed by the Certificates, the agency granting the license has the right to deny any certificate based on the conviction if it is job related and if it poses a risk to people or property.
The Certificate of Relief from Disabilities can be attained from the sentencing court at the time of sentencing or after. A person convicted of one felony can get a CRD if he/she was convicted of one felony. If a person is convicted of more than one count stemming from the same offense in the same indictment, it is considered one felony conviction for the purpose of getting the CRD. An ex-felon must get a CRD that covers each count.
A Certificate of Good Conduct can be attained from the Parole Board upon release or after. The difference between a CRD and a CGC is that a person convicted of more than one felony is not eligible for a CRD but is eligible for a CGC. The CGC also removes the bar to public office while the CRD does not. That means that a person that attains a CGC can become a notary public or hold other public offices. Any person eligible for a CRD can apply for a CGC from the Parole Board even though the person did not serve prison time.
Now, the CRD and CGC is not a Pardon. An executive Pardon is the third way to get all automatic bars from employment or licensure removed. But this is a very difficult process and Pardons are rarely given in New York State.
In order to apply for a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities an ex felon should contact the court clerk who would give him an application. The court may then order an investigation of the ex felon’s work toward rehabilitation. The time elapsed from the conviction would also be taken into account.
In order to apply for a Certificate of Good Conduct, an ex felon should get an application from his Parole Officer or contact the Parole Board for an application.
While the Parole Departments usually have the applications for a CGC, the Probation Departments usually do not have the applications for the CRD, so the ex felon still on probation should apply directly to the court but should let their probation officer know that they are applying for a CRD that way the probation officer can attest to the rehabilitation of the ex felon. Things taken into account as prove of rehabilitation include completion or participation in treatment, and whether the person has been re-arrested since his/her conviction, as well as the amount of time since the offense and the seriousness of the offense.
A person convicted of a felony but not sentenced to state prison should apply for a CRD. This applies to persons sentenced to probation or someone who was sentenced to time in jail plus probation. For example, if a person was convicted of a felony and sentenced to 6 months in jail and 5 years probation should apply for a CRD.
While the CRD can get attained at the time of sentencing, to get a CGC, a person must wait at least 3 years if the conviction was for an E or D felony, and 5 years if it was a C or B felony.
If an ex-felon is on probation or parole when he/she receives the CRD or CGC, it is a temporary certificate until the ex felon has completed his sentence at which the certificate becomes permanent.
Now, the CRD and CGC both create an assumption of rehabilitation. But they do not necessarily mean that the ex felon is rehabilitated. They only create the presumption of rehabilitation for the purpose of employment, licensure, and other rights. As mentioned above, an agency can still deny the applicant a license based on his conviction but the ex felon can ask for an appeal.
The Laws in New York State governing Certificates of Relief from Disabilities and Certificate of Good Conduct are contained in Article 23-a.