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Seattle’s rental law will not take people off the streets, housing rep. says

(File, AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

New legislation that prevents Seattle landlords from denying housing to someone with a criminal past is all about reducing the number of people living on the streets and combating inequality.

But that may just force landlords to do more of a deep dive into financial and other civil records, Sean Martin with the Rental Housing Association of Washington says.

“There are other means and tools out there,” he said.

There is enough criteria outside of criminal records that landlords can use to deny someone housing, he says. Taking a look at previous evictions, for example, could provide evidence that the person applying is a financial risk.

“Bottom line, landlords want to make sure tenants are responsible and that is what you’d look at…”

Martin opposes the legislation approved by the Seattle City Council Monday that prevents landlords from excluding people with criminal records in their ads and prevents landlords from asking about criminal history during the application process.

“It is bad news. Yes. We are further restricting things down to check boxes and taking the human aspect out of the rental business,” he said. “Especially for small landlords. And I don’t think that it is going to be a good thing for the industry long term; for the tenant long term.”

There are approximately 11,600 homeless people in King County. A count by All Home found 5,485 were unsheltered in January. That includes people living on the street, in abandoned buildings as well as vehicles, and tents.

More than 7,000 of those considered homeless live in Seattle.

Property owners can still refuse to rent to registered sex-offenders. They can also refuse to rent to someone if they will share an area of the home with them, or if the building has four or fewer tenants.

Studies have indicated that criminal records are not a reliable indicator of whether someone will be a risky tenant. But Martin says this legislation will not reduce the number of people living on the streets by a dramatic number. There needs to be more support services built around the legislation to make everyone feel more comfortable, he says.

With the approval of this new legislation, Martin says it’s “absolutely possible” for the city to go after other forms of record checks. He points out that the city needs to remember that the buildings and units being rented are private property and not a “public housing commodity.”

Listen to the entire interview here.

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