California City Aims to Ban Criminal Background Checks on Renters

January 24, 2020

Oakland, Calif., is vying to be the first city in the state to prohibit landlords from turning away potential renters who fail a criminal background check. The Oakland City Council passed the measure this week, which local lawmakers hope will help ease homelessness, and the ordinance will undergo a final review on Feb. 4 before being enacted. Similar measures have taken effect in cities along the West Coast—where homelessness is acute—including in Seattle and San Francisco.

Under the Oakland ordinance, landlords won’t be able to require rental applicants to disclose their criminal histories. Landlords who violate the ordinance could face up to $1,000 in fines for each violation. Advocates of the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance say it will give ex-convicts a better chance at finding stable housing and rebuilding their lives, which could ultimately help reduce homelessness. Homelessness surged 16.4% in California in 2019.

“We’ve all made mistakes,” John Jones III, who was formerly incarcerated, told CNN affiliate KPIX. “Who wants to be permanently punished for a mistake they made?” Jones, now an aviation mechanic, was released from prison in 2012 but has struggled to find a home because of his criminal history.

Single-family homes and government-funded housing will be exempt from the Oakland ordinance. Further, landlords can still consider the sex offender status of a potential renter when evaluating rental applications.