A federal appeals court has ruled that landlords can ask potential or current tenants about their criminal history, reversing a lower court decision in part and upholding part.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the City of Seattle’s Fair Chance Housing Ordinance violates the First Amendment right of free speech.
The appeals court disagreed with the district court that the Ordinance was narrowly drawn to achieve the City’s stated goals.
The appeals court said, “a complete ban on any discussion of criminal history between the landlords and prospective tenants—was not in proportion to the interest served by the Ordinance in reducing racial injustice and reducing barriers to housing. The panel therefore concluded that the inquiry provision failed intermediate scrutiny.”
Seattle landlords had filed the suit against the City of Seattle, alleging violations of their federal and state rights of free speech and substantive due process.
“The Ninth Circuit’s decision recognizes that the First Amendment protects the right to ask questions and receive information relevant to our livelihoods,” Ethan Blevins, an attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation which filed the suit for the landlords said in a relase. “The government does not get to decide what information people can or cannot possess.”
The case is Yim v. City of Seattle. Pacific Legal Foundation represented the landlords who filed the suit for free.
History of the lawsuit and small landlords behind it
“In 2017, Seattle passed the “Fair Chance Housing Ordinance,” forbidding landlords from asking about or considering prospective tenants’ criminal backgrounds,” the Pacific Legal Foundation wrote in a release.
“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 foundation wrote.
Read the court’s summary opinion here.