Seattle City Council adds protections for renters with criminal records

Supporters applauded in the Seattle City Council chambers after the new Fair Chance Housing legislation passed by an 8-0 vote.

The new law will keep landlords from using past arrests or convictions to screen rental applicants.

Susan Mason told the council she was in federal prison 14 years ago.

“What we are talking about is discrimination, period. Just this idea that I have to plead to a private citizen, even though I did my time.”

Rusty Thomas also spent time in jail. “I'm still being told, you don't fit in, you can't live here, we don't trust you.”

Under the new Fair Chance Housing Law, landlords are prohibited from considering expunged, vacated or sealed convictions, juvenile convictions and arrests. Adult sex offense convictions and owner-occupied single family homes are exempt.

Councilmembers cited studies to support their case for prohibiting rental discrimination against those with criminal convictions.

“An arrest or conviction is not an indicator of bad tenancy,” said councilmember Lorena Gonzalez

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said, “For those who have been convicted, the way I see it, you've paid your debt to society, you've served your time.”

Councilmember Lisa Herbold spearheaded the ordinance.

“With housing, a person is seven times less likely to reenter the criminal justice system. I would expect anyone in favor of a safer Seattle to support this bill.”

Landlords testified at earlier hearings but were not present for today’s vote. In a statement last week, the Rental Housing Association of Washington said its member oppose the law. They say it is bad policy because it does not mandate the support services many with criminal records need to succeed.

The law won’t take effect for six months to give the city time to inform landlords of its provisions.