Oakland landlords and tenants enter a shifting rental landscape after the City Council passed its Fair Chance Housing ordinance that establishes the East Bay city as the first in California to bar landlords from conducting criminal background checks.
This law, adopted by the City Council on February 4, “bans the box” which stops landlords from directly asking prospective renters if they have been convicted of crimes. There is already a similar law in effect in Seattle, and Berkeley is supposed to vote on a similar measure later this month.
For prospective tenants with criminal histories, the measure is intended to provide opportunities for reintegration into the community. High rents and screening for criminal background, say advocates, have led to homelessness and the inability of people to rebuild lives after serving time for felonies.
After a six-month grace period, landlords face an uncertain future implementing this ban. There are exemptions (discussed below), but the city will be able to issue penalties of up to $1,000 per violation, which include: asking applicants if they’ve been convicted of crimes, asking for permission to run a criminal background check before a tenant is approved, and looking at criminal histories when making rental decisions.
Exemptions include Section 8 vouchers and units funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. These landlords can conduct limited background checks to prohibit convicted sex offenders and meth manufacturers from Section 8 housing. Also, owners that occupy their unit maintain the right to conduct criminal background checks when they rent out a room in single-family homes or part of their duplex or triplex. There are also exemptions for sexual offenders—once landlords approve renters, they must let them know they’ll be running a check against the lifetime sex offender list.
What Can You Do?
How do landlords comply with the ordinance? You have six months to change your rental applications and screening processes if your screening practice currently includes criminal background checks. Though it is not available yet, the city of Oakland is required to publish an information sheet to describe expanded landlord requirements and tenant rights.
Landlords will still have screening criteria available to them, including landlord references, income information, and employment verification. This is exactly the type of reliable data that Tenant Screening Center provides to clients across the nation. We give you trustworthy information so that you clearly understand who you are renting to. By giving you the best chance to choose renters who make consistent on-time payments and treat your property with respect, we’ve earned the trust of our clientele for nearly 35 years!
Interested in getting better renters? Contact Tenant Screening Center online, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-523-2381 today!
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