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Seattle Rental Applicants’ Criminal Histories Virtually Off-Limits Under New Law

Posted by | August 17, 2017

Close-up picture of someone's hand with apartment keys in itLandlords will be forbidden from screening tenants based on criminal records, under an ordinance the Seattle City Council approved Monday.

The Seattle City Council approved an ordinance Monday that will mostly prohibit landlords from screening tenants based on their criminal records.

Landlords will be barred from excluding people with records in advertisements. When taking applications, they will be barred from asking about records. And in choosing tenants, they will be barred from rejecting people due to their records.

The only people who may be denied rental housing will be those listed on sex-offender registries because of adult convictions, and landlords denying housing to such people will still need to demonstrate a legitimate business reason for doing so.

The intent, according to proponents, is to lower barriers to housing for people with criminal histories, who now are often rejected by landlords. Council members last week voted 6-0 to advance the ordinance from their civil-rights committee to the full council.

They voted 8-0 Monday. Councilmember Kshama Sawant was absent.

“Regardless of my criminal history, I deserve housing,” Ballard resident Zachary Tutwiler, a vendor with the Real Change Homeless Empowerment Project, told the council during a public-comment period before the vote. “We all deserve housing.”

Some landlords say being allowed to make decisions based on the criminal histories of prospective tenants helps them better safeguard their property and existing tenants.

Landlords renting part of their own homes and sharing a kitchen or bathroom with a tenant will be exempt, as will primary leaseholders given the authority by landlords to choose roommates.

People renting mother-in-law apartments or backyard cottages on properties where they live also will be exempt, but micro-housing units will be covered by the ordinance.

Proponents of the ordinance say people who already have served their time shouldn’t be penalized again by landlords. And they say people who have been arrested but not convicted also should be treated the same as everyone else.

The proponents say people leaving jail and prison need housing to build stable lives and are less likely to commit crimes again when they have somewhere to sleep.

On Monday, Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who sponsored the ordinance with Council President Bruce Harrell, described housing discrimination against people with records as “a recipe for recidivism.”

Continue reading in The Seattle Times

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