Seattle Considers Limiting Landlords from Screening for Criminal History


A proposed Seattle ordinance would limit landlords’ use of criminal history, including sex offender registration.[1]

Under the proposal, among other requirements and prohibitions:

  • landlords could not use arrest records for any purpose, since an arrest is not proof of guilt;
  • landlords could not use criminal convictions more than two years old without a
    “legitimate business reason”;
  • landlords could not an adult’s status as a registered sex offender without a
    “legitimate business reason”;
  • landlords could not use a juvenile’s status as a registered sex offender for any reason.

If a landlord took an adverse action against an existing or prospective tenant, the landlord would be required to provide written notice to the tenant or prospective tenant, and state the specific records that formed the basis of the decision.

To defend charges of a violation on the basis of a “legitimate business reason” the “landlord must demonstrate through reliable evidence” a nexus between the policy or practice and the landlord’s safety concerns.  Factors considered include:

  • the nature and severity of the conviction;
  • the number and types of convictions;
  • the time elapsed since the date of conviction;
  • age of the individual at the time of conviction;
  • evidence of good tenant history before and/or after the conviction occurred; and
  • any supplemental information related to the individual’s rehabilitation, good  conduct, and facts or circumstances surrounding the conviction provided by the individual.

Under the proposed law, the City would “conduct regular fair housing testing to ensure compliance.”  Individuals could also bring a charge of a violation, which the landlord would have to defend in a hearing before City agencies.

A landlord who is found to be violation of this proposed law would be subject to penalties ranging from $11,000 to $55,000 plus costs and attorney fees.  To avoid these potential penalties, as part of a settlement the landlord could be required to attend and obtain certification under a “Fair Housing Home” program.

This proposed law, if passed, would become the latest in a string of new pro-tenant laws in Seattle.

[1] The proposed ordinance is available on the Seattle.gov website at http://murray.seattle.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/OCR-Fair-Chance-Housing-ORD.pdf [last accessed 7/6/17].