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The Seattle City Council is set to look at restrictions on how much landlords can ask prospective tenants about their criminal histories.

In Episode 41 of The Overcast, Seattle Times reporters Dan Beekman and Jim Brunner talk with proponents of the new restrictions, and a landlord representative, who worries the rules will go too far.

We hear from Nick Straley, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services, and Susan Mason, an activist and formerly incarcerated person. They say a clean slate is important for people who have been in prison to give them a better shot at turning their lives around.

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“Housing is incredibly difficult to get if you are formerly incarcerated,” Mason says. “We feel that we’ve served our time and that to place barriers in front of us to housing creates more punishment and creates recidivism.”

Straley says this a relatively new problem. Twenty years ago, landlords didn’t have access to modern computer databases containing national criminal records. “What this really is, is the modern day Scarlet Letter,” he says.

But Sean Martin, with the Rental Housing Association of Washington, in a Skype interview, says landlords have a right and responsibility to find safe tenants.

“For our membership, this is a public safety issue first and foremost and there is a lot of liability when we rent to folks and they pass a screening for their background check. They expect that everybody else getting in the building is a low risk too,” he says.

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