Seattle recently approved an ordinance that mostly prohibits landlords from screening tenants based upon their criminal records. This is the illogical extension of recent HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) guidance instructing landlords to consider only actual convictions, not merely arrests, and to consider convictions on a case by case basis.
The HUD guidance is reasonable, but in the Seattle ordinance, a landlord may be able to deny housing to those listed on a sex offender registry, but only if the landlord can show a legitimate business reason for doing so. The standard of a “legitimate business reason,” is a wide-open invitation to litigation. In the meantime, the rest of the Seattle tenant population is immune from being denied housing based upon their criminal history.
Violations of this new law will be painful for landlords, up to $11,000 for a first offense.
But it’s not landlords that will bear the brunt of the pain. After all, it’s only money. It won’t take long before a convicted rapist or similar felon gets out of prison, rents an apartment and hurts somebody who thought they were safe. Perhaps then this ill- advised ordinance will be repealed.
There will be further unintended consequences. One way to ensure that you’re not living next to someone undesirable is to choose the newest, most expensive rental. That means that the folks less able to afford these higher rents are more likely to get stuck with living next door to someone with a potentially violent criminal history. Affordable housing becomes dangerous housing.
At Decker Properties, while we fully embrace the HUD guidance in regards to considering convictions only and considering convictions on a case by case basis, we are very concerned for the safety of all of our residents. We will continue to screen for criminal convictions on a case by case basis according to the HUD guidance as long as the law allows.
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