Berkeley, California City Council is moving forward with a proposed ordinance which would prohibit landlords from inquiring about a rental applicant’s criminal history, including violent crimes.

Several other cities — Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis to name a few — recently passed or are considering similar initiatives, referred to as “fair chance” or “clean slate” ordinances. While the text of these laws varies, the intent is the same. City officials have adopted the position that criminal recidivism — the likelihood of repeating a crime — is driven, at least in part, by a lack of housing.

According to Berkeley’s statistics, 85% of landlords check criminal history. By eliminating the ability to factor in past criminal conduct when qualifying renters, lawmakers believe that homelessness — and crime rates — will go down.

Berkeley’s draft ordinance prohibits landlords from applying a blanket ban on all criminal conduct and requires notice to applicants that criminal history will not be considered. Landlords will not be allowed to ask about criminal history on rental applications, ask for consent to run a criminal background check, or access criminal records.

However, Berkeley landlords will be allowed to apply other factors including tenant credit, income, and rental history, something that is not freely allowed in other cities, including Portland.

In other ways, this appears to be the most restrictive of recent fair chance legislation. Minneapolis, for instance, allows landlords to make an individualized assessment of a prospective tenant’s criminal background, taking into account the severity of the crime, the number of convictions, and the age of the applicant at the time the crime was committed. These factors track with HUD guidelines, which also prohibit landlords from a blanket ban on all criminal contact.

One problem with the Minneapolis and Portland versions of fair chance is that the time period for assessing an individual’s recidivism runs concurrently with a prison sentence. A person could serve a decade or more in prison and be eligible for a private rental the day of their release.

Landlords who have opposed these measures argue that tenant retention may be adversely impacted, and that eviction rates may increase. Advocates who work with ex-cons have expressed concern that these vulnerable applicants are being set up for a fall because they may not successfully rehabilitate without support services, something private landlords are not equipped to provide.

Other concerns include an increased risk of a negligence lawsuit against a landlord should a tenant with a criminal past injure others, a rise in insurance premiums, and that the restrictions on tenant screening might violate the terms of existing mortgage contracts and grants. Crime has a significant impact on property value. And it appears that each time a city passes rental restrictions, investors get skittish and look at alternative markets, which may only exacerbate a city’s rental housing shortage.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

{ 2 comments }

HUD Targets Fraudulent Companion Animal Requests

by Chris on November 18, 2019

Most landlords understand that there are circumstances when they must allow a tenant with a disability to keep a companion animal. But for some landlords, each companion animal request raises the same nagging question: what if this is a scam to avoid fees or to keep a pet in a no-pets building?

The problem is pervasive enough that more than a dozen states have passed laws aimed at preventing fraudulent service animal requests.

With the help of websites touting medical prescriptions to turn a pet into a companion animal, what many landlords fear is a legitimate concern. These websites sell “certification” along with letters from healthcare professionals. Some of these websites guarantee documentation, while others tout fake government endorsements. One goes so far as to offer a tutorial on what to say in order to qualify for a companion animal prescription.

But those professionals did not meet the tenant, or at the very least, did on online or phone interview before making the recommendation.

Sadly, some of the tenants who obtain these certifications already qualify for companion animals and don’t realize they are paying for something they don’t need.

In response to complaints from housing providers, fair housing groups, and disability rights activists, HUD, the agency that created the companion animal policy, has asked the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection to investigate websites that offer companion animal documentation online.

HUD argues that the certification offered is not necessary and therefore takes advantage of persons with disabilities. Also, HUD claims that these online services make it easier for those who do not have disabilities to falsify companion animal requests, casting suspicion on legitimate requests.

“These websites are using questionable business practices that exploit consumers, prejudice the legal rights of individuals with disabilities, dupe landlords, and generally interfere with good faith efforts to comply with the requirements of the Fair Housing Act,” says HUD’s General Counsel Paul Compton.

HUD warns that the documentation available on the websites in question is not reliable. That’s because the healthcare professionals providing the documentation lack the personal knowledge necessary to assess whether the tenant suffers from a disability.

Reliable documentation includes a note from a healthcare professional who has personal knowledge of the tenant’s condition, or a disability determination letter from a government agency. HUD encourages healthcare providers to explain that the animal assists with the disability. Landlords can request documentation to support a companion animal request but cannot delve into the tenant’s disability or in any way intimidate a person making the request.

Certification is not a condition created by the Fair Housing Act or HUD guidelines. Service jackets, licenses, special collars and the like are not necessary to claim a companion animal.

One companion animal certification website touts an endorsement from HUD, which the agency says is fraudulent and misleading to consumers.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

{ 0 comments }

Court Revives Seattle’s First-In-Time Ordinance

November 18, 2019

Seattle’s controversial “first-in-time” ordinance, requiring landlords to accept the first qualified renter, has been reinstated by Washington’s Supreme Court. Previously, a lower court had ruled that the ordinance violates landlords’ constitutional rights by denying them the ability to rent to the tenants of their choice. The first-in-time ordinance requires landlords to provide tenants with a […]

Read the full article →

Wear and Tear Versus Tenant Damage: Can You Spot the Difference?

November 18, 2019

Landlords pay for wear and tear. Tenants pay for damage. It’s a simple rule. Or is it? “Ordinary wear and tear” is one of the blurriest legal terms in property management, and the distinction is far from easy to spot. Lawmakers have attempted to define the term with more clarity. In Texas, the circular definition […]

Read the full article →

Verify a Rental Application in 5 Easy Steps

November 11, 2019

Landlords face a growing risk of tenant fraud. Providing false information in the rental application is the main source of this fraud, which can lead to significant income loss for landlords. Tenant fraud can impact any landlord, but smaller rental businesses and inexperienced landlords are the ones most likely to be targeted by bad tenants. […]

Read the full article →

Evictions: Why Landlords Always Lose

November 11, 2019

Eviction might seem like a safety net for landlords — a backstop to income loss. If a tenancy turns sour, just boot the deadbeat and try again. Unfortunately, eviction is far from smooth sailing and there is no way for a landlord to come out of it unscathed: To evict a bad tenant, a landlord […]

Read the full article →

Secondary Suites Popular in New Construction

November 11, 2019

In the midst of a rental housing shortage, lawmakers are giving the green light to homeowners to open suites — in basements, back rooms, and garages — to tenants. Ontario recently sought to lessen the regulatory burden of bringing these units up to code. But it appears there is no rush on the part of […]

Read the full article →

Ottawa Mulls Ban on Short-Term Rentals

November 11, 2019

Investors in Ottawa are angry over a proposal that would limit their ability to rent income properties on platforms like Airbnb. A group calling itself Short and Suite is collecting signatures for a petition it plans to present to city lawmakers demanding that owners of secondary properties be allowed to continue the practice of short-term […]

Read the full article →

How to Avoid Today’s Top Tenant Scams

October 21, 2019

In a tight rental market, landlords need to tighten their tenant screening practices as well. Tenants who never gave a second thought to late rent payments or property damage now can find themselves unable to qualify. So, they get creative. Social media makes it easy for tenants to share their thoughts and ideas when it […]

Read the full article →

5 Property Management Strategies for New Landlords

October 21, 2019

While lawmakers are looking for ways to accommodate more renters, like California’s new push to license in-law suites, many property owners are taking advantage of the hot market and renting out their homes rather than selling. And that means more people are becoming landlords — many of them for the first time. To be successful, […]

Read the full article →