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Oakland Prohibits Questions About Criminal History on Rental Applications

Oakland, California, is no longer allowing landlords to inquire about rental applicants’ criminal histories. The Oakland City Council passed the Oakland Fair Chance Housing Ordinance earlier this month, making it the first city in California to adopt such an ordinance. 

About 70 million Americans have criminal records, and many of them struggle to obtain housing and employment as a result of their record, according to an article in U.S. News and World Report, which stated that 80% of individuals who have served prison sentences later were denied housing as a result of their convictions. 

The law in Oakland applies to “nearly all” rental properties in the city with a few exceptions, according to the report. The first is that the rule does not apply to “landlord-occupied units.” Another exception is that affordable housing landlords may deny rental applicants who were convicted of manufacturing meth. Lastly, landlords do not have to rent to individuals on the federal sex offender list. 

The ordinance is already in effect, but landlords have a six-month “grace period” to adopt it, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. 

The nonprofit advocacy group, Prisoners with Children, has been advocating for years under its “Ban the Box” campaign to have criminal background questions removed from applications for employment, housing, public benefits, insurance, loans, and more. 

“I was born and raised in Oakland,” Lee “Taqwaa” Bonner, an advocate with Prisoners with Children said, according to an NBC Bay Area article. “I am employed in Oakland. I own and drive a vehicle in Oakland. However, I cannot live in Oakland based solely on my criminal record, which happened 30 years ago.”

While the rule was unanimously passed by the Oakland City Council and is celebrated by advocates, not everyone was pleased with its passing. 

Wayne Rowland, president of the East Bay Rental Housing Association, reportedly said in an email to the East Bay Times, “As rental housing providers, we have a responsibility to provide a safe environment to residents and a huge part of that is knowing the background of each applicant.”

While Oakland is the first city in California to adopt such an ordinance, it is not the only city in the nation to do so. Detroit, Chicago, and Minneapolis also have passed ordinances regarding criminal background checks for rental applicants, although theirs are not as comprehensive as Oakland’s, according to U.S. News and World Report

These cities allow landlords to perform background checks but only at the end of the application process, and landlords are only allowed to “consider more recent convictions,” according to U.S. News and World Report. 

Also, San Francisco, and Richmond, California, have laws regarding background checks for rental applicants, but they only apply to affordable or municipally-subsidized housing. 

About Author: Krista F. Brock

Krista Franks Brock is a professional writer and editor who has covered the mortgage banking and default servicing sectors since 2011. Previously, she served as managing editor of DS News and Southern Distinction, a regional lifestyle publication. Her work has appeared in a variety of print and online publications, including Consumers Digest, Dallas Style and Design, DS News and DSNews.com, MReport and theMReport.com. She holds degrees in journalism and art from the University of Georgia.
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