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Criminal History Discrimination

Some landlords may screen out tenants who have criminal records, assuming that they will not be trustworthy renters, regardless of the nature of the crime, the circumstances surrounding the conviction, and the amount of time that has passed since the criminal activity occurred. If you have a criminal record, you might want to be upfront about it in order to avoid paying screening costs for a unit where the landlord refuses to accept tenants with criminal records. If you can get a personal letter of reference from a community member, case manager or even a friend, bring that along. Some tenant screening services check criminal history and some don’t. You can ask the landlord if they will rent to someone with a criminal record. If you know right away that the landlord will not consider you for tenancy because of a criminal history or eviction on your record, you can save the money you would have spent on a tenant screening or application fee and apply for another unit.

In some cases, you may be able to expunge your record, so it does not show up anymore. Can I Clear My Criminal Record? has more on expunging a criminal record. This help resource on juvenile record sealing can help juveniles clear their criminal records and access a new law that allows youth to have their criminal record expunged if they receive a pardon from the Governor.

An arrest alone should not be grounds for denial of housing. If you were denied housing because of previous criminal charge for which you were not convicted, that could be a violation of fair housing laws. A criminal charge is not a determination of fault under the law and may be reported to a Civil Rights Office. Also, it is discrimination for a landlord only to run criminal background checks on protected class groups, or not to select applicants consistently based on the same criteria. It also may be discrimination for landlords to have outright bans on all people with criminal records because it disparately impacts groups that are incarcerated more heavily for discriminatory reasons. The landlord should consider how long ago the crime occurred, any extenuating circumstances surrounding the arrest or conviction, whether the crime has any relevance towards the tenant’s ability to be a good renter, and any evidence of rehabilitation. Contact the King County Office for Civil Rights or the Washington State Human Rights Commission for more information.

Tenants whose criminal history is related to a disability can make a reasonable accommodation request to the landlord to accept alternative forms of determining eligibility for housing. Past drug addiction is considered a disability under fair housing laws. The tenant may submit a plan to the prospective landlord detailing any and all efforts they have undertaken to address and eliminate the issues that led to the crime, in addition to letters of support or certificates from drug rehabilitation programs, case managers, or other landlords. For more information, contact the King County Office for Civil Rights. See the Sample Letter: Housing Denial for Criminal History . The ACLU may also be able to offer assistance. For more information, see ACLU Criminal Records Project.

Also, the City of Seattle is currently considering a proposal to make it illegal for housing providers to discriminate against tenants on the basis of arrest or conviction record history. For more information, see Seattle Human Rights Commission’s Proposed Ordinance to End Arrest/Conviction Record Discrimination and Eliminating Barriers to Jobs and Housing. In 2013, the City of Seattle passed a Jobs Assistance Ordinance that sets limits on how employers can use criminal records in hiring decisions.

TU Campaign The Tenants Union advocates for a Seattle Ordinance that would amend Seattle’s current anti-discrimination laws to limit the ways a landlord can use arrest or conviction records when making rental decisions. This would move toward ending discrimination against people whose past record does not relate to their tenancy. See Criminal Record Discrimination for more information.

Tenants Union Tenant Counselors are not attorneys, and this information should not be considered legal advice. Please read our full Tenant Union Disclaimer.