Seattle Prepared To Ban Landlords From Refusing To Rent To Violent Felons

The Seattle City Council is about to adopt an ordinance that prohibits landlords from keeping out convicted felons and other criminals from their apartment complexes.

The law – which will almost certainly be approved by the full council Monday – received unanimous support of the body’s civil rights committee. It prohibits landlords from screening prospective tenants based on their criminal histories.

The only people who could be denied housing based on their record are convicted sex offenders, and that’s only if they can prove a “legitimate business reason” for doing so, The Seattle Times reports.

What this means – in real terms – is that a convicted murderer, arsonist, kidnapper or drug dealer could be rented an apartment next door to your family without you ever knowing – because the landlords have no choice.

This is the latest move from Democrats to “de-stigmatize” convicted criminals. They paid their penance to society and are now free. The same groups also support the “Ban the Box” movement, which prohibits employers from asking applicants if they’ve ever been convicted of a felony.

Proponents of the legislation say people who already have served their time shouldn’t be again punished by landlords. They say people denied by landlords based on their criminal histories can end up homeless and are more likely to reoffend than people with housing.

“Nobody is more safe when people who have criminal backgrounds are unhoused,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold, chair of the committee and a sponsor of the ordinance with Council President Bruce Harrell.

Of course, this puts tenants at great risk. Imagine renting an apartment next to a convicted violent felon because the landlord had no choice but to rent to them.

During a public-comment period Tuesday, landlord Sara Weaver said the ordinance’s backers want to “put the safety and security of tenants at risk and set property owners up for potential damage.”

Weaver begged the council to at least study the plan: Do people with criminal histories tend to be worse tenants than non-convicts? But no such study will be done. Because Seattle is a city where ex-cons get a “second chance,” consequences be damned.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray offered an option: Let landlords look back at conviction history for two years – or exempt units with four or fewer units.

But the civil rights committee ignored the recommendation, and voted unanimously to require landlords to ignore criminal history, no matter how recent.

Back in 2016, the state attorney general ruled that it was “racist” for landlords not to rent to felons, sparking the new legislation.

In addition to criminal convictions unrelated to sex-offender registries, the proposed Fair Chance Housing ordinance would prohibit landlords from looking at pending criminal charges, arrests not resulting in convictions or juvenile records, including juvenile convictions causing people to be listed on sex-offender registries as adults.

Councilwoman Lisa Herbold told residents not to worry: Sure, their neighbor might be a violent ex-felon, but at least they’ll have a good credit score.

“Landlords will still be able to screen applicants based on employment, credit scores, income ratios or other criteria,” Herbold said in a statement.

“For a criminal justice system that disproportionately arrests people of color, punishing someone who hasn’t been found guilty is a true injustice,” she added.

So Seattle residents: Take heart. You may be living with a violent offender next door to you and your family, but at least they have good enough credit to get that kickass flat-screen from Rent-A-Center on credit.

Sleep tight, folks. Luckily, Washington State has few ridiculous rules about firearms ownership, so if you’re considering defending yourself and your family, here’s a list of the top gun shops in the city.

Robert Gehl

About Robert Gehl

Robert Gehl is a college professor in Phoenix, Arizona. He has over 15 years journalism experience, including two Associated Press awards. He lives in Glendale with his wife and two young children.