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ACLU suit: Tenant screening company illegally flagged woman

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The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a woman who says her decades-old drug convictions cost her a chance to rent an apartment—a violation of Washington state law. 

And hundreds others may have been illegally rejected for apartments in the state because of unfair background checks. 

Markeletta Wilson found herself in this situation last summer when she was turned down for an apartment in Tukwila. The landlord hired a company to conduct a background check, then rejected Wilson because of two drug convictions from 1989 and 1995.

"I feel that it’s unfair to continue to screen people out of their housing because of mistakes they made decades ago," Wilson said.

The ACLU says it’s not just unfair; it’s illegal. Washington law says any criminal record older than seven years can’t be counted.

The ACLU is now suing the tenant screening company, Yardi Systems, in King County Superior Court, and plans to ask that the case be certified as a class-action.

Jonathan Grant, who heads the Tenants Union of Washington State, says his group sees hundreds of cases like this every year but that most people don’t have the means to hire a lawyer.

"That’s why this class action is necessary—so that it can spread light on these bad practices, so that people can join that lawsuit and actually take action," Grant said.

An executive with the tenant screening company said he had no immediate comment as he hadn’t yet seen the lawsuit. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.
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