On July 6, 2021, a federal court upheld the City of Seattle’s Fair Chance Housing Ordinance. See Yim v. City of Seattle, 2021 WL 2805377 (W.D. Wash. July 6, 2021). The ordinance prohibits housing providers from taking an adverse action against a prospective occupant, tenant, or household member based on any arrest record, conviction record, or criminal history. Seattle Municipal Code § 14.09, et seq. The ordinance also prohibits housing providers from inquiring about or requiring disclosure of any such records or histories.
The City of Seattle passed the ordinance in 2017, recognizing that “racial inequities in the criminal justice system are compounded by racial bias in the rental applicant selection process.” Seattle City Council, Legislative Summary, Ord. No. 125393 (Aug. 23, 2017).
Prior to passing the ordinance, in 2014, Seattle’s Office for Civil Rights conducted fair housing testing to measure any differences in treatment based on race or disability related to information about criminal background histories. The testing found that African American and Latino testers were told they would have to complete a criminal background screening more frequently than similarly situated white testers.
Based on the City’s testing and other evidence, the court found that, “the City could reasonably conclude from this evidence that some landlords were using criminal history as a pretext for racial discrimination and that prohibiting landlords from considering criminal history would reduce racial discrimination.” Yim v. City of Seattle, 2021 WL 2805377, at *10.
Shortly after the City passed the ordinance, three landlords and the Rental Housing Association, a trade group representing over 5,300 landlords, challenged the ordinance in federal court. The Court in Yim vs. City of Seattle on July 6, 2021, denied the landlords’ motion for summary judgment and granted the City’s motion for summary judgment. The landlords have appealed the court’s July 6 decision.
More from this Newsletter Issue: Summer 2021
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