Oakland is the first city in the state to ban landlords from using criminal convictions to reject renters applying for private or public housing.
The City Council unanimously passed the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance that prohibits landlords asking about a previous criminal conviction or denying an applicant with such a record.
“This is incredibly timely, given our collective commitment and my personal commitment to addressing homelessness and housing in our city,” said Councilwoman Nikki Fortunato Bas, a co-sponsor of the ordinance.
It is routine for anyone applying to rent an apartment to have a background check conducted and often people with criminal convictions are denied. This makes it difficult if not impossible for a formerly incarcerated person to find housing, the Bay Area News Group reported.
Wayne Rowland, president of the East Bay Rental Housing Association expressed concern about the new ordinance.
“As rental housing providers, we have responsibility to provide a safe environment to residents, and a huge part of that is knowing the background of each applicant,” Rowland said in a written statement.
San Francisco and Richmond have similar ordinances, but those measures apply only to subsidized housing. Berkeley City Council is poised to vote on a similar ordinance banning tenant background checks, with similar measure being proposed for Emeryville and Alameda County, the story reported.
A supporter of these type ordinances, Margaretta Lin, executive director of Just Cities, said landlords still have access to credit reports, references and employment information – all things needed to determine if an applicant will make a good renter.
The Oakland ordinance does not apply to single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes and in-law units if the owner is living on the property. Roommates seeking to replace a roommate can use background checks to exclude a potential tenant.
A landlord can still look up a prospective tenant on the states sex-offender registry, but only after providing a conditional offer to the potential renter.
The new ordinance also exempts owners of government subsidized affordable housing like Section 8 to continue to use criminal background checks to comply with federal law. At this time, federal law requires landlords to reject potential tenants who have been convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine or are on a lifetime sex-offender registry.
Oakland can fine landlords up to $1,000 for each violation of the ordinance.