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Seattle City Council Approves Protections For Rental Applicants With Criminal Records

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Elaine Thompson
/
AP Photo

Updated at 3:14 p.m. Monday Aug. 14 with the council's passage of the law.

 

The Seattle City Council passed a law Monday that mostly prevents landlords from screening potential tenants by criminal history.

 

The “Fair Chance Housing" ordinance passed in a 8-0 vote (Councilmember Kshama Sawant was absent). The law is intended to expand housing options for those with criminal records.

 

 

Under the new rules, the only people who could be denied housing are those listed on sex-offender registries who were convicted as adults. Even then, landlords would need to prove they’re denying housing for a legitimate business reason.

The city’s civil rights committee unanimously passed the ordinance last week. Councilmember Debora Juarez says continuing to allow this type of screening means the tenant is always the “defendant.”  

“You’re putting the landlord in the position of considering the severity of the conviction, the type of conviction, the time elapsed between the conviction, evidence of a good tenant," she said. "I felt like I was a judge again and doing the sentencing.”

 

Juarez also pointed out a criminal conviction doesn’t necessarily affect a potential tenant’s ability to pay their rent. Others on the committee said there is evidence showing stable housing actually helps someone with a conviction integrate more smoothly back into society.  

 

The law exempts landlords who share a kitchen or bathroom with their tenants or who rent out backyard cottages.

 

The ordinance will take effect five months after it's signed by the mayor, who first sent a proposal to the council in June.

 

It will be overseen by the city's Office for Civil Rights. The city plans on implementing training programs for landlords before the law takes effect.