Tenant Background Checks Continue to Spark Controversy

A hot real estate market and a growing push for criminal justice reform in the United States are two factors causing a crescendo of support for legislation that bans or significantly curtails landlords in their ability to run tenant background checks. Nevada and Oregon are the latest states to consider restrictions on how landlords run background checks. The outcomes of those bills could inspire further growth in this trend, which is already one of the most notable shifts in background checks in years.

In Nevada, Assemblywoman Dana Neal, a Democrat from Las Vegas, is advocating for Senate Bill 254. The legislation would largely bar landlords from inquiring about a prospective tenant’s conviction or arrest history. There are exceptions: landlords would still be able to vet tenants for serious crimes that might indicate a risk to safety or property, such as violent felonies, sex crimes, or arson. Landlords would generally be unable to ask about past crimes, disqualify applicants based on most types of criminal history, evict existing tenants based on criminal record information, or publish a notice that might indicate a clear preference for tenants with no criminal records.

SB 254 just passed the Nevada senate with the vote separated along party lines. All republicans in the Nevada State Senate voted no on the bill.

In Oregon, the legislation is Senate Bill 291. Though not as sweeping as the Nevada bill, SB 291 would make it illegal for landlords to disqualify a tenant based on expunged or sealed criminal records, or if the prospective tenant entered a diversion program or received a deferred judgment for the crime. 

The bill would be especially impactful for individuals with past convictions for the use or possession of marijuana, which is now legal for both medical and recreational use in Oregon.

Additionally, SB 291 would require all landlords to create written screening criteria for their tenants to inform all prospective tenants of the criteria, and to disclose details about tenant rights, including the right to appeal a background check’s findings. Landlords would need to fulfill these steps before accepting any application from a prospective tenant or charging application fees, which landlords often use to cover the costs of landlord background checks. Finally, SB 291 would make it protocol for a landlord to provide a written explanation to a prospective tenant within 14 days if they chose to disqualify that candidate based on background check findings.

Bills such as these will become more common as conversations about housing rights, discrimination in housing, and criminal justice reform grow louder in the U.S. While landlords will likely not experience a complete ban on tenant background checks, experts say that restrictions and protocol requirements could increase as legislators make the housing application process fairer and more accessible to all. Oregon’s proposed requirement concerning upfront disclosure of landlord background check criteria could become a common thread as a hot housing market ignites national debate about expensive application fees.

At backgroundchecks.com, we will continue to monitor tenant background checks as legislative trends evolve. Follow our blog for all the latest developments.


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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

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

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