Aug 27

Seattle recently banned rental property owners from screening prospective tenants for criminal records.

Seattle tries to make this a landlord issue, ‘How dare landlords prohibit criminals from renting. These good people paid the price for their crime and should be free to live anywhere they want after being released from prison!‘ And Seattle’s landlords fell into this political trap, opposing the ordinance from a concerned landlords’ perspective, rather than what it really is – an assault on the rights of the vast majority of Seattleans that are not criminals.

Let’s step back and look at this situation truthfully.

Landlords screen for criminal backgrounds not for their benefit, but rather do so mostly out of concern for the safety and tranquility of their other tenants and neighbors. The selfish motivation of the owners, if you want to call it that, is crime devalues neighborhoods.  But that motivation is beneficial to all in the neighborhood as well as the city itself.

This ordinance may benefit the owners as it will:

  1. Raise rents. Seattle has a housing problem. There simply are not enough units for the population. By forcing owners to accept the ten or fifteen percent of residents that have criminal histories that exceed the HUD guidelines for criminal screening, the city fathers have worsened the housing crisis for the rest of the population seeking decent housing.
  2. Reduce owners civil liability for the bad acts of their tenants. Jimmie ‘the Hacksaw’ Smythe from 201 rapes and murders Ms. Jones in Apt 310.  ‘Don’t blame me. I could not screen for his previous twenty years of criminal activities. In fact feel sorry for me,  I now have two vacancies.”
  3. Likewise, owners will no longer be accountable to the municipality for disruptive tenants. ‘Hey, I just rented to the people you told me I had to take.’

In a sad, ironic way, the crime free leasing movement that started in the Pacific Northwest is about to die where it was born. Milwaukee’s Landlord Training Program had its roots in a 1997 Portland program. In fact Washington State passed a Crime-free rental housing program in 2010, a half decade before Wisconsin did.

The motivation behind screening out criminals was to make neighborhoods more stable and more desirable, thereby benefiting the municipality, the residents, and ultimately the property owners.

This screening prohibition is just another case of failed liberal governments harming the very people they purport to help and support.

Sadly, when this ordinance fails, and it will fail, rental owners will face criticism for the increase in crime happening to Seattle’s more affordable neighborhoods.  This time the landlords will be blamed for allowing the very criminals into their units that they were required to under this new ordinance.

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