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Seattle landlords fight for the right to rent to who they want

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Kelly Lyles is an artist who owns and rents her home in West Seattle. She’s also the survivor of a sexual assault.

In 2017, the Seattle City Council passed the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance which prohibited landlords from considering criminal backgrounds when deciding who to rent to. Because of the close proximity of her tenants and her history with sexual assault, the new ordinance really concerned Lyles, who depends on the income her tenants provide.

Ethan Blevins is an attorney with the Pacific Defense Fund and he’s representing several landlords, Lyles included, in a lawsuit against the city.

“Personal safety is one of her highest priorities when she’s dealing with the single family house that she rents out in West Seattle,” Blevins told KTTH Radio’s Jason Rantz. “She’s terrified of having to rent to somebody that she doesn’t feel safe with and is blind to a possible violent felony in the past.”

The lawsuit explains Lyles isn’t just considering a potential tenants ability to pay when weighing options.

For example, Ms. Lyles understands the needs of individuals who are recovering from addiction and would consider an applicant who did not otherwise satisfy her credit screening requirements if the applicant was part of a recovery program.

Blevins said the other landlords involved in the suit feel similarly.

“These aren’t greedy landlords willing to squeeze anybody for a buck,” Blevins said. “They are concerned for their own safety and for the safety of their other tenants.”

In the lawsuit, Blevins and his team argue the ordinance violates the landlord’s constitutional right to rent to whom they choose at the price they choose.

“If you don’t have any other reason to reject them besides their criminal history then you’re going to have to take them, and we think that’s a burden on their due process rights,” Blevins said. “Their property rights are being taken away without the due process of law because that’s such an unreasonable and arbitrary burden placed on them.”

Blevins again reiterated that the landlords aren’t heartless, they understand this is a problem that needs solving, they just don’t think the responsibility should fall entirely on them.

“There are other ways to help these people, including reforming your criminal justice system, including providing assisted public housing,” Blevins said. “That’s the kind of answers we need, not hoisting this burden on the private residential housing market.”

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