Seattle Bans Landlords from Conducting Criminal Background Checks

In a recent move that started with good intentions but with controversial effects, a new Seattle law has banned landlords from conducting criminal background checks. In the new city ordinance CB 119015, also known as the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance, prohibits landlords from excluding prospective tenants because of their criminal history, from requiring or conducting criminal background checks of those prospective tenants, or from charging them higher rents and security deposits.

Good Intentions

The intent was to lower barriers to housing for people with criminal histories, who now are often rejected by landlords. The new law passed with 8-0 votes in the city council.

“Regardless of my criminal history, I deserve housing,” Ballard resident Zachary Tutwiler, a vendor with the Real Change Homeless Empowerment Project, told the council during a public-comment period before the vote. “We all deserve housing.”

The Seattle Office of Civil Rights will develop rules for and enforce the ordinance and will launch an anti-bias training program for landlords. The office regularly conducts testing to check whether landlords are engaging in discrimination.

Rental applicants will be able to file complaints with the office, which will investigate. For a first-time violation, the maximum penalty will be $11,000; for a second violation in five years, $27,500; and for a third violation in seven years, $55,000.

Adverse Effects

However, not everyone is happy with this controversial law. Many landlords are saying that the new law prohibits them from making decisions that will make tenants and the community safer. Under this ordinance a landlord can take virtually no criminal offense into account when choosing whether to rent to someone, no matter how serious or how recent the violation is. The only exception is for registered sex offenders. This makes the business of renting out apartment units more risky, and landlords will respond to that risk by toughening the screening requirements they are still allowed to use.

The following are some other adverse effects the new Seattle law may have:

  • Increased rental requirements such as credit scores
  • Landlords and property owners planning to sell their properties due to the new risk involved
  • Fines for not attending mandated “re-education” & anti-bias training can lead to increased pricing on the consumers
  • Putting communities at risk of potentially increased crime rates


Seattle also currently has one of the highest priced rental markets in the country as well as a worsening homelessness problem. Many are saying that perhaps making the rental business more risky and therefore more expensive, will only add to the current problems.


Accredited Background Checks takes your background screening needs seriously. We ensure that each and every background check, whether for tenants, employees or for an individual, is guaranteed to meet the highest security standards within the industry. We provide the most accurate background checks nationwide. From federal criminal history searches to prior employment verification, each background check conducted has the most up-to-date information so that you, the employer or property orwner, can make the best decisions for your company and tenants.

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