Seattle landlords aren’t to know about would-be tenants’ criminal records

“The Seattle City Council approved an ordinance Monday that will mostly prohibit landlords from screening tenants based on their criminal records. Landlords will be barred from excluding people with records in advertisements. When taking applications, they will be barred from asking about records. And in choosing tenants, they will be barred from rejecting people due to their records.” [Daniel Beekman, Seattle Times] Now with more re-education: “Any participation in this ‘conciliation’ process also mandates landlords attend anti-bias training courses.” [Christian Britschgi, Reason]


  • Does this apply to the city housing authority if they have one? I don’t think the feds play by the same rules either.

  • Does it apply to folks on the sex offender list? That’s one that Milwaukee and surrounds went with, refusing rental to anyone on the sex offender list who didn’t live there to begin with.

  • I might have some sympathy for the City Council’s decision if it also included the end of landlord liability for acts committed by tenants. Somehow I suspect that never entered their minds when deliberating on this matter.

  • Effectively one can screen for many criminals by simply raising the rent and using economic factors to achieve the goal of keeping felons out.

    This is what I predict landlords will do.

    Seattle…..see how this works? And you whine on endlessly about high rent and lack of affordable housing. Do you see a connection here?

  • A quick search reveals a WA recidivism rate of over 30% (2012).
    Poor odds for landlords. Maybe the state is tired of paying to house and feed so many.

  • FOR RENT: 2 bedroom / 1 bath apartment in Seattle. Approx 800 sq feet. $4000 per month + utilities. Applicant may be eligible for discount rate to $1100 / month with supplied proof of clean rental, employment and criminal records

    • Off to re-education for you, gitacarver!

      • SmallGovGuy,

        I am not sure why I would be heading anywhere. The ordinance(s) appear to prevent a landlord from asking about convictions and rental histories. It says nothing about a prospective tenant offering information which may lower the price of the rental property to them.

        • gitarcarver, the ordinance generally specifies that the landlord may not take “adverse action” based on criminal history. “Adverse Action” is defined, in part, as applying different terms. Allowing someone without a criminal history to rent at a lower rent than someone with a criminal history would be an adverse action under the provision.

          • Richard,

            The ordinance says that the adverse action may not be taken because of any information obtained from a registry (local, state, or federal databases.)

            My ad wouldn’t be doing that at all. If the person wants to supply their records, that’s on them and not me. As a landlord, I am not requiring the information, asking for it, or getting the information from a registry.

            My original post was satirical and based on the cases where it was decided something along the lines that you can’t charge more for purchases made with a credit card (a surcharge) but you could offer a discount for purchases made with cash. (A distinction without a difference.)

            The bottom line is that Seattle wants to tell landlords how to run their businesses and their properties without and compelling reasons. The ordinance lists all sorts of “whereas-es” and most of them center around discrimination within the legal system against minorities.

            How can there be discrimination within the legal system of the uber left leaning City of Seattle? Doesn’t Seattle think of itself as the model of diversity and correct political thought? There simply can’t be discrimination there. It’s just not possible.


        • The ordinance prohibits adverse action taken on account of arrest record, conviction record, and criminal history. Arrest record and conviction record are specifically defined as “information indicating” arrest and “information regarding” convictions. It is not limited to information obtained from the sources you mention, but encompasses any information known to the landlord.

  • I have mixed feelings about this, reading about sex offenders, some guilty of relatively minor offenses or even quite possibly innocent, forced to sleep under bridges.

    As PaulB suggested, if the city wants to remove the possibility of landlords to screen tenants, then the city should make landlords and fellow tenants whole for tenants who do not work out.

    Before putting a released prisoner into the tenant pool, parole authorities might do screening themselves for bad bets, e.g. those who have history of evictions or assaults.

  • One of the tricks of civil asset forfeiture that the feds use is to seize properties when there is lots of criminal activity there. So you can’t ask about or look into criminal records but you can get your building taken if you have criminals dealing drugs there. What could possibly go wrong.
    I agree that it is a problem for ex cons to find housing, but forcing landlords to rent while still holding them liable is simply crazy.

  • If the Seattle city council really wants to improve both availability and cost of rental property, what they should do is support landlords instead of renters. For instance, if landlords had strong tools for efficiently and quickly removing delinquent or damaging tenants from properties then their risks would be reduced.

    Or they can go with increasing landlord risks and see how that works out…