City Officials Push to Limit Tenant Background Checks

Officials Want Protections for Ex-Cons

law booksSan Francisco’s Human Rights Commission wants to limit a landlord’s ability to reject an applicant with a criminal history. 

In a letter to city lawmakers including the Mayor, the Human Rights Commission makes the case that housing discrimination against ex-cons interferes with their ability to re-enter the community.  According to a local news report, the District Attorney and law enforcement officials agree.

A number of large cities have similar laws regarding employment discrimination of ex-cons.  California has as many of seven million people with criminal records, according to the Commission.

The rules proposed by the HRC include a prohibition on inquiries regarding any arrests that did not lead to a conviction.  If the applicant’s record shows a conviction, only those crimes that are “housing-related” could be grounds for rejection of the applicant.

Housing-related crimes have a “reasonably direct negative bearing” on the safety of persons or property given the nature of the specific housing situation.  Landlords would not be required to rent to an ex-con if they share a bath or kitchen with tenants, or have fewer than three units.

Landlords have raised concerns that the proposal will make it harder to protect other tenants and increase the risk of lawsuits.  Those in rent-controlled cities already face difficulties in evicting tenants who commit crimes during the term of the lease.

Another concern over the proposal is whether it sets a bad precedent.  If applicants with criminal backgrounds are given protections while they rehabilitate, then what about those with poor credit?

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