Sean Martin | External Affairs Director
At its full council meeting on August 14, Seattle City Council voted unanimously to enact an ordinance which prevents Seattle landlords from using criminal records when screening applicants for tenancy. The new law takes effect February 19, 2018.
Passage of the ordinance ends a process of public debate begun during the HALA stakeholder process where this issue received its own subcommittee task force aimed at addressing the barriers that criminal records screenings place in front of ex-offenders searching for housing.
The shift to an outright ban came about after public hearings where tenant advocates and individuals who have faced barriers to housing due to criminal convictions pleaded with Council to eliminate the proposed “look back” period which would have allowed landlords to still look at convictions no more than two years old since the date of conviction.
The lone class of landlords exempted from the ordinance’s ban are those who rent shared space – eg, room rentals, ADU’s, DADU’s.
Those exempted landlords, however, must still must follow federal HUD guidelines that all landlords in Washington State must follow when screening for criminal records. Those guidelines include no blanket or categorical bans on types of criminal records in an advertisement – the ad should state that records are considered on a case-by-case basis – and that a landlord must have the ability to demonstrate that the conviction being used for denial presents a legitimate business reason for doing so. A legitimate business reason involves considering the nature of the offense, the severity of that offense, when it occurred, how old the applicant was at the time of the offense, and whether or not the individual has been rehabilitated since that point in time.
With the change in Seattle’s law landlords are now in an even tighter box as it pertains to mitigating their risk when renting property. Moving forward, the only criminal conviction allowed to be weighed by Seattle landlords are sexual offenses which require an individual to be listed on a local, state, or national registry.
Other tools, such as credit checks, civil records (evictions, collections), and landlord and employment verifications are now critical for Seattle landlords to utilize to ensure they can find a highly qualified renter.
RHAWA had communicated the opportunity to establish public-private partnerships with landlords to incent them to lower their rental criteria standards and pointed to other cities in the US where landlords are treated as a community asset who can contribute as one piece of a puzzle of support services to reduce housing barriers for those re-entering our communities.
If you have a personal experience you can share about renting to an ex-offender who then re-offended while at your property we want to hear from you. Email Sean Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.