New Seattle law restricts landlords from checking criminal history

SEATTLE – The Seattle City Council passed new legislation on Monday that some call among the most progressive tenant protections in the country.

The new rules will no longer allow landlords to check a person’s criminal conviction history.

Proponents of the new rules said it’s a second chance for people who have repaid their debt to society, while landlords fear it ties their hands and creates serious safety concerns for their residents.

This isn’t the first time Seattle lawmakers have tried to make renting easier for people -- the city already requires landlords to accept new tenants on a first-come, first-serve basis. Landlords are suing the city over that law, claiming it is unconstitutional.

During Monday’s council meeting, the audience roared when the new legislation was approved, 8-0. The measure aims to end housing barriers for people convicted of crimes.

“They’ve paid their debt, that is the bottom line,” said City Council President Bruce Harrell.

The new law means landlords will no longer be able to consider a person’s criminal history when interviewing prospective renters.

“I’m still being told you don’t fit in, you can’t live here, we don’t trust you, no matter how much work I put in,” said Seattle resident Rusty Thomas.

Thomas said he served his time, got a college degree, but complains his criminal past keeps him from fully reentering society.

“I say all of this because I have agency as a white male,” he said. “So if I’m suffering, I can’t even imagine people of color doing the same things I’m doing.”

Supporters of the new law said people of color face the most discrimination under current law because that population is disproportionately incarcerated.

The new law won’t go into effect for another six months. The only people who may be denied rental housing will be those who are on a sex offender registry list.

Harrell said new rules will give convicted criminals a chance to redeem themselves without fear of becoming homeless because of picky landlords.

“It’s going to be through policy corrections that we address these evils that have occurred in our society,” he said.

The Rental Housing Authority of Washington said in a tweet that landlords fear they could end up being held liable for crimes, and suggests tort law regulations should be updated.