Some landlords claim the law violates their due-process rights by preventing them from protecting themselves and their tenants.
Seattle is being sued again by landlords, this time over a new city law that mostly prohibits them from screening rental applicants based on criminal records.
In a complaint filed Tuesday, some property owners claim the law violates their constitutional due-process rights by preventing them from protecting themselves and their existing tenants. They claim it violates their free-speech rights by stopping them and screening firms from obtaining and sharing information.
Under the law, which went into effect in February, most rental applicants cannot be asked about their records and cannot be rejected because of their records. The only applicants who can be denied based on records are those listed on sex-offender registries because of convictions as adults.
Landlords can be penalized up to $11,000 for a first offense and up to $55,000 after that.
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When the City Council adopted the law last August, supporters said it would lower barriers for people who are often denied by landlords despite having served their time. The supporters said people need housing to build stable lives and are less likely to commit additional crimes when they have somewhere to sleep.
The U.S. Department of Justice has estimated that one in every three American adults has an arrest or a conviction record, according to the text of Seattle’s law.
In 2016, an Obama administration memo said policies excluding renters with records are likely to disproportionately burden African-American and Hispanic people, because of disparities in the criminal-justice system.
The plaintiffs and their attorney, Ethan Blevins from the Bellevue office of the Pacific Legal Foundation, have challenged Seattle before. They notched a victory in March when a judge struck down a city law requiring landlords to accept the first qualified renter who applied. Seattle is seeking a state Supreme Court review of that decision.
Blevins and the Pacific Legal Foundation have targeted the city repeatedly in recent years, winning rulings against a law allowing garbage collectors to look through the trash and against an income tax on wealthy households.
The landlords in Tuesday’s complaint are a couple with a triplex, a woman with a rental house and a couple with a small apartment building. The Rental Housing Association of Washington is also listed as a plaintiff.
The triplex owners say they have rented to people with records in the past but want to be able to choose.
The city should help people with records through other means, such as providing them better access to public housing, the landlords say.
The Seattle City Attorney’s Office is reviewing the complaint, said Dan Nolte, a spokesman.
“We believe the ordinance is constitutional and plan to defend it,” Nolte said.
Nick Straley, a staff attorney at Columbia Legal Services, which lobbied for Seattle’s law, said landlords cannot demonstrate that record checks make them and their properties safer. Few landlords regularly screened applicants for criminal records until about a decade ago, he said.
Straley called Tuesday’s challenge “another effort by a right-wing law firm to invalidate progressive laws aimed at attacking racial discrimination and providing people with a second chance.”