California Looks to Make Ex-Cons a Protected Class
SACRAMENTO – A California Assemblyman has introduced legislation that would prohibit property owners from rejecting potential tenants on the basis of their past criminal record.
AB 396 expands the state’s list of protected classes to include individuals with a criminal record, except where federal law requires otherwise. Advocates for these laws point to the difficulties suffered by ex-cons who attempt to seek housing and employment; however, these laws do not take into account the liability placed on property owners, who have an obligation to the safety of their residents.
San Francisco passed a law in 2014 that prevents publicly-funded housing providers from asking about criminal backgrounds on rental applications, as well as requiring employers to hold off on such inquiries, until after an initial interview. In 2011, the Seattle Office of Civil Rights proposed a similar ordinance, but it failed due in part to the objections of the rental housing industry. Madison, Wis., passed one of the earliest laws adding arrest records to its housing discrimination statute.
The bill specifies that a criminal record includes arrests or detentions that did not result in conviction, as well as any convictions that have been dismissed or sealed. Property owners are permitted to ask applicants about any arrests for which they are out on bail pending trial. The bill is eligible for its first hearing on March 22.
Source: California General Assembly, SFGate, National Apartment Association