Excerpted from a Reason blog by Christina Britschgi
In August 2017, Seattle made it illegal for landlords to decline potential tenants because of their criminal history, or even to perform a criminal background check on people looking to rent their property. Now a collection of landlords is suing, claiming the so-called Fair Chance Housing Ordinance is unconstitutional.
On Tuesday, the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a public interest law firm, filed suit on behalf of several small-time landlords who are concerned about the financial and personal safety risks of being unable to screen tenants for past wrongdoing.
The PLF’s complaint claims that the Seattle law violates landlords’ due process rights under the 14th Amendment by imposing an “unreasonable, overbroad, and unduly burdensome” regulation. The complaint also says the law runs afoul of the First Amendment by denying landlords access to publicly available records.
“The landlords we are representing are especially impacted by their inability to look at criminal history,” says Ethan Blevins, an attorney with the PLF. “They have a lot of interest at stake, both personally and professionally.”
The plaintiffs include Chong and MariLyn Yim, who live with their three children in one unit of a triplex; they rent out the other two units. The Yims share a yard with their tenants and occasionally leave their kids at home alone. They therefore place a lot of value on being able to vet people with whom they will be living in such close proximity.
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