Checking an applicant’s criminal history is one of, if not the, most important parts of the screening process. Someone’s criminal record gives insight into their past and if they are not willing to be truthful about it that tells us even more about their character. This crucial part of our screening process is currently being threatened by a new ordinance in the city of Seattle, called the Seattle Fair Chance Housing Ordinance.
This new ordinance in the city of Seattle, which went into effect 01/20/18, states that landlords will not be allowed to use criminal history as a reason to deny a perspective tenant. Not only will the landlord not be allowed to use criminal history as grounds for denial, they also will no longer be allowed to even ask a prospective renter about their criminal history.
Right now this ordinance is in effect only in the city of Seattle not even the entirety of King County Washington. The alarming part of this is that it could start spreading and threaten the amount of information landlord / screening companies would be capable of providing our clients while making recommendations of whether or not to rent to an applicant.
What this ordinance is doing is essentially creating a protected class for criminals because their past charges cannot be used at all in the screening process. This would take away a lot of power out the landlord’s hands and force them to knowingly or unknowingly rent to someone that has a history of bad decision making i.e. criminal behavior.
Many of our clients likely have experience with renting to criminals and that experience is a big reason why they chose to use our screening services. Criminal information is public information and therefore should be fair game to be used in tenant screening. This ordinance has the ability to set an extremely dangerous precedent for what other information landlords would be able to use in the screening process.
While a lot would have to happen for this to be implemented nationwide, as a landlord it is important to note when parts of your power as a decision maker are being threatened.
DISCLAIMER: READ CAREFULLY: The information provided in this article is not considered legal advice and is given only for information purposes. ALWAYS SEEK THE ADVICE OF YOUR LEGAL COUNSEL.