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Criminal Background Checks on Rental Applicants Now Illegal in Oakland

A statewide criminal background check ban for renters is also being considered for future legislation

By Evan Symon, January 22, 2020 4:37 pm

Oakland City Hall. (Wikipedia)

On Tuesday night, the Oakland City Council passed the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance, making criminal background checks on potential tenants in private and public housing illegal within the city.

The decision by the City Council was immediately praised by housing advocates, civil rights organizations, and groups who help rehabilitate ex-convicts. Housing advocates in particular saw this as a victory following a major eviction of a group of women who were squatting in an abandoned house in the city.

“A single mistake that happened years ago shouldn’t bar you from having a stable life once you paid your debt to society,” said Richard Spielman, an Oakland housing advocate. “We’ve seen  too many criminals who turned their lives around or came back with a good paying job but couldn’t find true stability due to many landlords, especially around the Bay, not wanting to rent to ex-criminals.”

“We can finally have people move forward.”

Oakland Vice Mayor and City Councilman Larry Reid. (Oakland)

City Council members also expressed their approval of the new ordinance, including Councilman and Vice Mayor Larry Reid. Reid, who’s son is currently incarcerated for conspiracy and accepting bribes, and is due to be released in the next several months, now has another barrier removed for renting.

“So this legislation is going to make a huge difference in his life as he begins to do the things he ought to be doing to improve the quality of his life and my two granddaughters,” stated Councilman Reid.

Councilwoman Nikki Fortunato Bas also agreed with the new ordinance.

“This ordinance is about making sure returning community members have equal opportunities they deserve to successfully reintegrate into our community,” noted Councilwoman Bas. “And this begins with a roof over your head.”

Few groups were opposed to the new ordinance, although the California Apartment Association (CAA), the group that represents landlords in California, did try and stop it at various points due to federal law excluding most criminals with narcotics or drug charges from having housing protections.

Despite the unanimous vote for the removal of criminal checks as part of a rental application, other checks such as income inquiries, rental history, and job status can still come into play in the landlord’s decision on who to rent to.

Oakland’s historic vote follows in the footsteps of San Francisco, which doesn’t allow criminal background checks in affordable housing units, as well as Seattle, which was the first major city to pass such a law in 2017. Nearby Berkeley is currently voting on passing a similar new measure next month, while all of Alameda County is currently being targeted by Ordinance supporters for a countywide ban.

A potential statewide criminal background check ban for renters is also currently being explored as a possible future state Assembly or Senate bill in the near future.

Oakland City Council is set to give a final vote on the ordinance on February 4th at Oakland City Hall.

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