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Fight erupts in Seattle over law prohibiting landlords from checking tenants’ criminal history

Court battle set over “Fair Chance Housing Act”

There’s a legal fight brewing in Seattle that could have serious ramifications for the multifamily industry as a whole.

The fight involves a newly enacted city law that forbids Seattle landlords from checking into the criminal history of their prospective tenants.

The law, which went into effect earlier this year, was celebrated by fair housing advocates, who claimed that the law addresses an housing crisis in Seattle by helping people find a place to live regardless of what happened in their past.

But, landlords and property owners have decried the law, claiming that it will force them to raise their asking rents because of the risk they’d have to take on in allowing all comers to rent from them.

Andrew Keshner of MarketWatch did a deep dive into the legal fight that’s unfolding between the city and some of the city’s landlords, with the landlords suing the city and claiming that the city’s law is unconstitutional. Here’s Keshner on the situation:

Landlords argue their free speech, property rights and possibly their safety is being jeopardized by a law that forces them to close their eyes to relevant public information about possible tenants. They’re backed by landlord groups and background screeners who call the ordinance a perilous precedent.

The “Fair Chance Housing Act” was anything but that, according to landlords’ lawyers. Ethan Blevins, an attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, said the law’s premise “is this paternalistic idea that the city gets to decide what information is relevant or important to a landlord’s decision making process.”

As Keshner writes, the law’s chief supporter on the Seattle City Council, Lisa Herbold, said that ensuring that everyone on the city has a place to live will reduce the likelihood of those who previously committed a crime from committing another one.

Again from Keshner’s article:

While other cities limit how far in time landlords can delve into a tenant’s criminal past, Herbold said Seattle’s law appears to be the first blocking any inquiry at all.

“It is an embarrassment and shame that a city like ours, with so many resources, is not doing a very good job taking care of those who have the most significant barriers to access in housing,” Herbold said, “And having a mark on your background related to the criminal justice system is one of those barriers.”

According to Keshner, the two sides are due to file their arguments next month. Click here to read the full article.

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