Forums » Running A Property Management Company


    • 2 posts
    December 28, 2010 3:43 PM PST

    The City of Seattle seeks to remove criminal convictions from landlords'€™ screening criteria.


    Seattle'€™s Office for Civil Rights has started discussion focused on finding ways to make it easier for convicted criminals to find housing and employment in the city. This seems like a logical idea, unless you'€™re a landlord in Seattle and don'€™t want to be forced to rent to criminals. However, if SOCR gets its way that'€™s exactly what would happen under a proposal the office is planning on presenting to Mayor McGinn in January.


    The proposal is a result of SOCR partnering with the Sojourner Truth Transitional Housing Program, a transitional housing group that provides housing and support for homeless, economically or emotionally oppressed women. The partnership kicked off their campaign for finding convicted criminals housing and employment by hosting a public forum on November 30th at Garfield Community Center.


    The proposed law would make it illegal to discriminate against people in housing and employment based solely on an arrest or conviction record. The law would not apply to arrests or convictions that directly relate to an applicant'€™s tenancy, such as a conviction for arson, or create an unreasonable threat to the safety or welfare of employees, landlords, tenants or property.

    According to SOCR Director Julie Nelson, "Employers would still be able to ask about criminal backgrounds'€”arrests and convictions'€”but they wouldn't be able to use that in a discriminatory capacity." Interestingly, only two jurisdictions have similar protections for criminals: Madison, Wisconsin and Dane county in Wisconsin.


    Washington State law already limits information landlords can receive about a person'€™s criminal history. A consumer reporting agency may not report any records of arrest, indictment, or conviction of crime that, from date of disposition, release, or parole, which antedate a consumer report by more than seven years.


    Having a screening policy for prospective tenants is necessary to ensure landlords get qualified, responsible tenants who pay their rent on time, can take care of the unit and will respect their neighbors. RHA ( Rental Housing Association ) President Julie Johnson commented "you don't want to rent to people with drug convictions. If they turn out to be growing [pot], or have a meth lab, federally, they could seize the property. This proposal would make landlords do the job that the state should really be doing, like providing transitional housing and employment to ex-felons. Property owners should be able to decide whom they rent to.'€


    Most landlords choose to use a consumer reporting agency to help them make this decision, informing the landlord of a person'€™s credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, and/or personal characteristics through credit bureau credit reports, criminal background investigations, civil record investigations, previous rental history and verification of employment.


    The landlord'€™s duties as imposed by the Washington State Landlord Tenant Act are to keep the premises fit for human habitation. Landlords are not equipped to monitor their tenant'€™s behavior, or act as a counselor, and we have the right to select the most qualified applicant to rent our unit. An ex-offender may or may not fit those criteria.


    Legal liabilities for the landlord, and the obvious security risk to other tenants, would also be a major issue. If the owner chooses not to rent to an applicant with a criminal history, they may be sued for discrimination. If they choose to rent to the applicant, and the applicant, now tenant, injures another tenant, the landlord may also be sued.


    Interestingly, many local jurisdictions, particularly in suburbs south of Seattle (Auburn, Des Moines, Kent, King County), have enacted crime-free ordinances which require a landlord to evict tenants when a number of police visits have been made to the property. If a landlord does not evict the tenant, the landlord faces fines and inspections from the city. These laws, when combined with SOCR'€™s open-door policy for criminals in Seattle, could lead to an increased criminal population living in Seattle.


    RHA has met with SOCR, and begun discussions with council in advance of the legislation being introduced. At RHA'€™s meeting with SOCR, Director Nelson commented that SOCR believes landlords are using the presence of a criminal conviction as a reason to discriminate against an applicant who falls under other classes that are protected, such as race or sexual orientation. However, the logical approach to these situations would be for SOCR to enforce existing laws regarding protected classes.


    The implications of making certain types of ex-offenders a protected class is extraordinary and takes the debate about protected classes into uncharted territory. It is one thing to grant protected status because of something beyond one'€™s control (race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, etc.), but quite another to grant it because of the (bad) choices one has made. The unstated premise upon which this kind of thinking rests is that one need never be responsible for the consequences of one'€™s actions.


    As rental housing providers, we have an obligation to maintain a safe and secure environment for all our tenants. Anything that compromises our ability to do this is not good for tenants or the community. RHA supports a housing-for-all policy. Rental housing can and does fulfill that need.



    Dave Poletti & Associates

    Seattle Property Management

    Member RHA


  • January 19, 2011 2:44 PM PST

    Hi Dave

    Thanks for alerting us to this.

    [email protected]

    • 1 posts
    June 23, 2011 11:06 AM PDT

    This is so ridiculous, to make sex offenders a protected class!   They have made a choice to abuse, their victims never had a choice.   If we can not decline due to the offence then we are going to open up an entire new world of victims to them.   The day this happens in Maryland is the day that I will not rent another apartment.

    • 4 posts
    June 24, 2011 12:54 AM PDT

    I totally agree..

    • 4 posts
    June 24, 2011 12:55 AM PDT

    Thanks Dave for the information..

    • 5 posts
    July 12, 2011 5:51 AM PDT

    Perhaps SOCR would be billing to pay fair market price for all the landlord's investment properties in town who want to get out and go purchase investment property in a more reasonable community. =)

    • 1 posts
    May 24, 2013 8:06 AM PDT

    It will be fascinating to read about how someone tries to hold a landlord or manager responsible for not being allowed to verify criminal history.

    I hope the emphasis can be shifted away from "paid their debt to society" to Predicting Future Behavior Based on Past Behavior.   That is why we run credit, right?

    As a fall-back position, I would be willing to accept the requirement to disregard convictions - at least certain ones - if they have happened far enough in the past, similar to how a bankruptcy goes off the credit report after ten years.