Can I Get a Georgia Real Estate License With a Criminal Record?
Real estate is an industry that requires a lot of trust and integrity. After all, you’re helping people make the biggest investment of their life.
The Georgia Real Estate Commission wants to make sure every applicant that receives a license has the honesty, trustworthiness, integrity, and competence to meet the demands of the job. Passing the exam satisfies the competency part. For the other parameters, the commission uses a thorough background check.
If you have a criminal record it’s still possible to get a real estate license in Georgia, but the process is a little more complicated and there’s no guarantee your license will be granted. Here’s how it works.
Self-Reporting Criminal Charges and/or Sanctions
After you complete your pre-licensing education, you will apply to take the state licensing exam. Part of this application involves disclosing whether you have a criminal history or a history of being disciplined by a licensing agency.
You must disclose all of the following: Criminal convictions in any state or country Convictions that have been pardoned Convictions that have been expunged Offenses no longer on your record (including first offender sentence) Nolo contendere pleas Sanctions by any licensing or regulatory agency
It is vital that you be truthful about your past. As part of the application process, you will provide GREC with a criminal history and they will do a thorough background check. Not disclosing criminal history up front will hurt your chances at getting a license.
Background Clearance Application
If you do have a criminal history that you are disclosing to GREC, when you apply to take the exam you will also fill out a Background Clearance Application. This enables GREC to complete your background check before you pay to take the exam, so that if your application is denied, you don’t have to pay the exam fee.
In fact, if you know you have a criminal history that might impact your chances of licensure, you can fill out a Background Clearance Application before you even begin take your pre-licensing education.
GREC will decide whether or not your past will prevent you from being licensed before you spend a dime on pre-licensing education, application fees, or exam fees. You can find a copy of the background clearance application in the candidate handbook.
Getting a Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC) Report and Other Criminal Reports
When you apply for your license, you must supply an official criminal report. The type of criminal report you need to acquire depends on where you currently live and your history. People who live in Georgia must obtain a Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC) report from a local police station or sheriff's office. Anyone currently living outside of Georgia must get a criminal report in their home state or a National Crime Information Center [NCIC] report. * If you live in Georgia but have been convicted of a crime in another state you also have to get an NCIC report. The reports will only be valid if they are generated less than 60 days before applying for a license. It’s best to wait until just before you take the licensing exam so that you have what you need to apply after passing.
Common Reasons for License Denial
According to GREC, there are five main background check-related reasons that licenses are denied:
- The crime committed was severe. Most felonies will lead to a denial, as well as misdemeanors considered crimes of “moral turpitude”: forgery, embezzlement, theft, and extortion.
- Failure to complete a sentence. Failure to complete a sentence imposed by a court or licensing body will result in a denial. Applicants on probation and parole are generally denied until they complete their sentences. GREC wants to see the applicant having made full restitution for their crime.
- Providing inadequate character reference letters or inappropriate character references. Character references and reference letters are the applicant’s chance to prove that their previous convictions do not represent who they are today (every applicant is required to provide three letters). An effective letter is one from a business associate aware of the conviction who nonetheless trusts the applicant. Letters from family or religious leaders are less effective.
- The incident happened too recently. GREC wants to see that the applicant has not repeated the illegal behavior. If the incident isn’t very far in the past, there is little evidence that the applicant would not do it again. Though there is “no magic time period,” according to GREC, salesperson applicants with a single felony must wait two years to apply, multiple felony applicants must wait five years to apply, and broker applicants must wait at least 10 years after a felony or crime of moral turpitude to apply for a license.
- The applicant failed to disclose all the relevant incidents. If GREC does your background check and finds undisclosed incidents, they will count against you much more harshly than if they had been disclosed. Always err on the side of disclosure.
Investigations into Criminal History
After an applicant submits their Background Clearance Application and supporting documentation, a commission investigator will review all of the documents connected to the conviction or sanction.
The investigator may request additional documentation (which you should provide them quickly) or request an in-person interview.
Typically, investigations are completed within one month of receiving a Background Clearance Application. The materials are then passed on to the Commission for a final decision on whether the applicant is eligible for a license. You’ll be notified by mail with a Clearance Letter if you’re deemed eligible.
At that point, you can move forward wherever you are in the process: scheduling your exam or starting your pre-licensing education. Make sure to keep the Clearance Letter — you’ll need it for your application packet.
What Are My Chances?
The good news is only about 15% of applicants with a criminal record are denied. If you properly disclose your past and submit good character letters, you have a good chance of getting the thumbs up.
If your application was denied, there’s still a chance you could qualify for a license. Applicants may request an appeal hearing with the Office of the State Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
You can plead your case as to why the Commission should allow for licensure despite your past. There’s a good chance the ALJ will uphold the denial, but it’s worth a shot if you want to become a real estate agent in Georgia.
Want to learn more about being a real estate agent in Georgia? Check out our career center.