In May of this year, Landlords in Seattle and the Rental Housing Association of Washington filed a lawsuit against the city of Seattle in the King County Superior Court. Their argument is to oppose a new law that was passed in August of 2017, that prevents landlords from using criminal background checks to screen possible future tenants. This Fair Chance Housing ordinance was unanimously approved by Council members who advocate that racial differences in the criminal justice system and the challenges of finding housing for people with criminal records can create a relapse for these individuals who are trying to move forward. Surrounded by the ‘whereas’ clauses at the beginning of the ordinance, the council wrote, ‘There is no sociological research establishing a relationship between a criminal record and an unsuccessful tenancy.'(2017)
On the contrary, Ethan Blevins from Pacific Legal Foundation, a Libertarian law firm, representing the landlords, argues that the new law violates the property owners due process rights and constitutional free speech. They’re requesting that the court intervene and stop the city from enforcing the law and reimburse all legal fees. Blevins goes on to explain that the landlord’s freedom of speech is being violated because they are being barred from receiving information and not being able to use it in their decision making. In addition, their right to due process is also being violated because it is being applied in an “unreasonable and unduly oppressed” manner. (2017) He argues, that allowing landlords to do criminal background checks helps to protect their tenants against possible future criminal acts.
City member Lisa Herbold, who supports the law, argues that those who have been convicted and served their time, have paid their dues to society and should be given a second chance. She continues to say that the law does not fix the inequalities in the criminal justice system but attempts to make sure the inequalities are not made worse by the landlords. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development who also stands behind the ordnance, suggest that by refusing to rent to individuals with a criminal record will likely have an imbalanced impact on minority home seekers. Then mayor Ed Murray, who initiated the Fair Chance Housing policy in June 2017, felt that it would also protected the tenants from retaliation.
The law was unanimously passed in August of 2017 by council members who believe it is constitutional and plan to defend it. The lawsuit was just received by the city’s attorney’s office and is being reviewed which is believed to get a summary judgement hearing in the next six months.
While the attorney’s for the landlords argue that the property owner’s First Amendment is being violated, it would also appear that individuals with a criminal record are being denied individual rights as well. As we discussed in class, “The Nature of Law and Legal Rights”, individual rights are protected by not only the First Amendment but by all ten Bill of Rights written in the United States Constitution. These Bill of Rights apply to everyone within the United States borders.