There is a small but disturbing trend in local governments limiting or banning the use of criminal history searches in rental screening. We are seeing this play out in Oakland and Berkeley in California; Portland, Oregon; Cook County in Illinois; Minneapolis; and Detroit. These cities and one county follow a Seattle ordinance that was called “groundbreaking”. While these laws or proposals are novel, they are also dangerous to other tenants who want safe places to live. These local controls are often unconstitutional. In Seattle, CDIA is supporting litigation against the city that challenges the constitutionality of the ordinance.
In Yim v. Seattle, CDIA filed an amicus along with the NAPBS (now the Professional Background Screening Association). The Seattle law restricts the lawful use of tenant screening reports that include criminal record information and operates as an unconstitutional restriction of commercial speech in violation of the First Amendment and the Constitution of the State of Washington. The ordinance, as interpreted by the Seattle Office of Civil Rights (“SOCR”), seeks to restrict consumer reporting agencies (“CRAs”) from providing landlords with criminal record information and to prohibit rental housing providers from receiving information required under federal law.