Oakland bans criminal background checks for housing applications

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Oakland has become the first city in the state of California to ban criminal background checks for rental housing.

Housing applications have a checkbox asking if you have ever been convicted of a felony. If that box is checked the application can go into a rejection pile. But by next month that question will not be allowed to appear on rental applications in Oakland.

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It's called the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance, designed to bar landlords from conducting criminal background checks on potential tenants.

At Tuesday night's meeting, Oakland City Council passed the ordinance as a way to address homelessness and give those who have passed through the criminal justice system a chance to find housing. But those who own rental properties are worried about the implications.

Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb promised there would be a six-month phase-in period in terms of how strictly it's enforced. He explained it's so landlords "have time to gear up for it and create new paperwork."

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But real estate attorney Brent Kernan expects the ordinance to face legal challenges over " whether these are appropriate questions that the owner has a right to ask. I mean they face liabilities and all sorts of consequences if they get the wrong person in and bad things happen. "

The campaign director of the Alameda County Fair Chance Housing Coalition was once incarcerated and says he still faces challenges as a single dad finding housing.

John Jones IIi said, "The landlords still have discretion. They can check credit, residential references, things of that nature. We think removing the structural barrier of a criminal record is important. "

A second reading of the ordinance is scheduled two weeks from now and enforcement will kick in this summer. The city of Berkeley is expected to consider a similar ordinance next month.

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