California County Bans Tenant Background Checks

There are hundreds of thousands of homeless individuals across the nation, and in many areas, the problem has reached a crisis point. Large homeless encampments spring up wherever someone can pitch a tent, and these spaces can be dangerous to the public and their occupants. Inflation, rising rents, and a lack of available housing have all contributed to these problems—but according to many advocates for reform, a fundamental problem has been discrimination against those with criminal records.

Many formerly incarcerated find it very challenging to acquire housing when landlords check criminal records as part of the application process. In some places, individuals with convictions cannot move in with family members due to restrictive background check laws or prohibitions against renting to those with records. The result is immense housing pressure that often leads to only one possible outcome: homelessness. To combat this problem, some cities and states have begun to consider phasing out tenant background checks despite property owners’ objections.

Now, a California county is close to completing a step that would make it one of the first in the nation to have a county-wide ban on checking the background of rental applicants. In Alameda County, city supervisors voted to adopt such a ban for unincorporated areas of the county. The major cities of Berkeley and Oakland, which both reside in Alameda, have already enacted such a ban. The new rules would also make it illegal to prohibit individuals with records from moving in with family.

Considering criminal records as a determining factor in rental applications will be entirely off the table once Alameda County finalizes its new rules. Some locales, such as a county in Illinois, have instead chosen to mandate an “individualized” review of every applicant while leaving criminal records on the table. However, California county’s law makes it clear that any real estate for rent must comply with these rules.

Landlords in these communities will now have to evaluate rental applications strictly on their merits, which increases the importance of careful due diligence. Even without criminal records, property managers and landlords must still select tenants who will most likely care for the home and pay rent on time properly.

That enhances the need for fast, reliable credit checks and a method for verifying references and rental history. Over time landlords may begin to welcome such changes—expanding the pool of eligible tenants ultimately means more opportunities to fill vacancies quickly and to maintain a substantial, steady rental income.

Will more counties or even whole states move to take the criminal background check out of the equation? That remains to be seen. However, landlords nationwide should take note of the changes happening in places such as Alameda. They serve as an important reminder that legislation and regulation can change suddenly, and those changes can significantly impact how you do business. Stay current and ahead of the curve to continue an efficient and fully compliant property business.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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