A U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in late March that the government cannot prevent landlords from asking about applicants’ criminal histories when selecting tenants. The case stemmed from a 2017 law passed in Seattle that forbade landlords from asking about or considering prospective tenants’ criminal backgrounds.
According to a release from the Pacific Legal Foundation:
Washington, D.C.; March 21, 2023: Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the government cannot prevent landlords from asking about applicants’ criminal histories when selecting tenants.
In 2017, Seattle passed the “Fair Chance Housing Ordinance,” forbidding landlords from asking about or considering prospective tenants’ criminal backgrounds. This meant that landlords could not base a rental decision on factors like personal safety or the well-being of other tenants. For Kelly Lyles and several other small-scale housing providers, this gave them little to no choice over their future tenants.
Ms. Lyles is an artist by trade, but she earns most of her income by renting out a small single-family home that she owns in Seattle. As a single woman and survivor of sexual assault, she has the right to know if her rental applicants have engaged in crimes that might endanger her. But Seattle tried to take that right away. As a result, Ms. Lyles and several other housing providers filed a federal lawsuit. After the district court ruled in Seattle’s favor, they appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
“The Ninth Circuit’s decision recognizes that the First Amendment protects the right to ask questions and receive information relevant to our livelihoods,” said Ethan Blevins, an attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation. “The government does not get to decide what information people can or cannot possess.”
The case is Yim v. City of Seattle. Ms. Lyles and her fellow housing providers are represented by Pacific Legal Foundation free of charge.