In March of 2016, having recently been let go from the Cleveland Browns due in part to truancy and public drug use, Johnny Manziel applied to live in an apartment. The property manager who processed his application was at first delighted that she would have the opportunity to rent to the Heisman Trophy recipient from Texas A&M. But she was quickly disheartened when she realized that, due to a criminal background screening policy that she had helped create which immediately disqualified applicants who had been arrested for or charged with a crime, she could not rent to Johnny Football.
His criminal background check revealed that he had been arrested for domestic violence three months prior. But since she was a fan, and because it was her personal opinion that he was innocent, she successfully lobbied her building’s ownership to restructure their screening policy to disregard arrests, and only screen for convictions (using the logic that arrests are not proof of wrongdoing).
One can only wonder how many other applicants were denied before this screening policy was changed to accommodate this one individual, but we can imagine that for every Johnny Football who succeeds in finding housing despite their well-documented and widely publicized misdeeds, there are a thousand others whose public fame does not precede them, and whose private shame is exposed during the rental application process, and who fail to secure housing despite their ability to pay rent. All because a landlord chooses to perform a criminal background check. In Seattle, that choice will be off the table very soon.
In a historic move, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance into law on Monday, making it illegal for private landlords to conduct criminal background checks on applicants, effective January of next year. This legislation almost missed its monumental opportunity to eliminate criminal background checks entirely, but during the amendment process a series of changes were introduced to re-fang the law and rid it of certain stakeholder concessions that did not hold up under scrutiny.