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September 2017

Seattle City Council prohibits use of criminal records to screen tenants

In a unanimous 8-0 vote last month, the Seattle City Council barred landlords from using criminal records to screen tenants. (Council member Kshama Sawant was absent.)

The new ordinance will protect the estimated 30 percent of Seattle residents over the age of 18 who have an arrest or conviction and seven percent with felony records. It was proposed by Mayor Ed Murray in June as part of his action plan and the 2015 Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) recommendations.

Property owners cannot exclude people with arrest or conviction records, nor may they ask about criminal history. "Adverse action" based on an applicant's record is also prohibited under the new law, and it protects tenants from retaliation.

Employment, credit scores, income ratios, or other criteria may still be used for screening with some exceptions. Landlords may use the online sex offender registry if they give a "legitimate business reason" for doing so. Single family dwelling units in which the owner lives in part of the unit are exempt from the ordinance.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold said the new restriction is part of the solution to address the homelessness crisis. She said no studies have shown a link between criminal history and tenant violations.

The newly-passed addition to the Seattle Municipal Code comes four years after implementation of the Fair Chance Employment legislation that bans use of criminal backgrounds to screen job applicants.

Parts of the ordinance become law 150 days after the mayor signs it. The city estimates it will cost $99,000 to implement it.