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Seattle Ordinance Prevents Owners from Screening Criminal History

Screening Criminal History

On August 14, the Seattle City Council passed the Fair Chance Housing ordinance, which prohibits most owners and operators of rental housing in the city from using criminal record screening to evaluate a prospective resident. The law specifically includes the following:

  • Prohibits owners from adopting and implementing policies that automatically or categorically deny individuals with an arrest or conviction record from housing.
  • Prevents owners from taking adverse action (including denying tenancy, evicting, failing or refusing to add a member of household to an existing lease, applying different terms or conditions, such as the establishment of damage deposits, or otherwise making housing unavailable to) against persons because of their arrest and conviction record.
  • Requires that an owner may only take adverse action against a prospective or current resident because of his or her status on a sex offender registry if the owner has a legitimate business reason for taking such action.  
  • Prohibits the consideration of sex offenses of a prospective or current resident that were committed as a juvenile.
  • If a consumer report is used by an owner as part of the screening process, the owner must provide the name and contact information of the consumer reporting agency and give notice of the prospective resident’s rights to obtain a free copy of the consumer report in the event of a denial or other adverse action, and to dispute the accuracy of the information on the report.
  • Owners are subject to certain notice requirements to inform prospective and current residents of the above.

In addition to the requirements for rental housing providers in the city, the ordinance gives power to the Seattle Office of Civil Rights to perform regular testing and enforce the law on owners to ensure compliance. Also, the ordinance lays out civil penalties for non-compliance of up to $55,000.

The ordinance takes effect 180 days from August 23, the date in which Mayor Ed Murray signed the bill into law. The timing is intended to allow for the city to work out the details of implementation and enforcement and to educate both owner/operators and residents. A link to the ordinance can be found here. Also see SCC Insights’ coverage of the Seattle City Council and its article Understanding the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance for more information about the ordinance.

The Washington Multi-Family Housing Association (WMFHA) continued to voice concerns about the ordinance throughout the legislative process and engaged the Council in negotiations. WMFHA is currently determining the best course of action moving forward. NAA is supporting those deliberations both to assist local advocacy efforts and address broader national implications.  For more information on criminal record screening, please see the NAA/NMHC White Paper on Resident Screening Policies for Ex-Offenders, which is available here or contact Nicole Upano, Senior Manager, Government Affairs on the NAA staff.