A federal appeals court has given landlords in Seattle permission to ask potential tenants about their criminal records.
The decision came in a case that challenged the city’s ban on requesting such information.
However, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that’s unconstitutional, and the government “cannot prevent landlords from asking about applicants’ criminal histories when selecting tenants.”
“The Ninth Circuit’s decision recognizes that the First Amendment protects the right to ask questions and receive information relevant to our livelihoods,” said Ethan Blevins, an attorney at Pacific Legal. “The government does not get to decide what information people can or cannot possess.”
Seattle in 2017 adopted its so-called “Fair Chance Housing Ordinance.” It banned landlords from asking about or considering prospective tenants’ criminal backgrounds.
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“This meant that landlords could not base a rental decision on factors like personal safety or the well-being of other tenants. For Kelly Lyles and several other small-scale housing providers, this gave them little to no choice over their future tenants,” the foundation report explained.
Lyles, an artist by trade, earns income by renting out a small single-family home that she owns in Seattle. As a single woman and survivor of sexual assault, she has the right to know if her rental applicants have engaged in crimes that might endanger her, she charged in the lawsuit.
WND had reported when the dispute developed that the city’s restrictions on information for landlords generated several lawsuits, including the one over the details of criminal records.
The city’s move was so extreme it even made it unlawful to refuse to rent to someone who was on a sex offender registry.
It further banned landlords “from making decisions based on their own personal safety, the safety of other tenants, or discomfort with convictions for ‘sex offenses, crimes against children, or even hate crimes,’” the report said.
The lawsuit said the city’s plan violated the Due Process and Free Speech provisions of the constitutions of Washington and the U.S.
The city also had tried to force landlords to rent to the “first” applicant for an opening.
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