Opinion: Restrictions on tenant background checks will reduce rental home availability

Mark Harmsworth of the Washington Policy Center shares his thoughts on the impact of a recent Supreme Court ruling making it harder for renters to get access to affordable housing

Mark Harmsworth
Mark Harmsworth

Mark Harmsworth
Washington Policy Center

A recent Supreme Court ruling upholding the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance will make it harder for renters to get access to affordable housing. Despite the intent of the legislation to make it easier for renters to get access to housing, it will have the exact opposite effect.

The law prevents landlords from doing a criminal background check on tenants prior to signing a rental agreement. This puts the landlord in a position where they are unable to determine if the renter is a good, or potentially a bad tenant, affecting not just the landlord’s rental property but those of properties in the same area as the rental unit. Each renter situation is unique, and a failed background check doesn’t necessarily mean a renter will be denied a rental, but it does allow the property owner to make an educated decision on the risk that is assumed for each renter in the property.

Mark Harmsworth of the Washington Policy Center shares his thoughts on the impact of a recent Supreme Court ruling making it harder for renters to get access to affordable housing.

A background check that shows a renter has caused property damage or has been delinquent in paying rent in the past clearly is a higher risk tenant. It also would show if a tenant, that has had a spotty rental history, has worked to subsequently repair that history.

Rents are likely to increase as property owners will want higher rents to mitigate the risk of a potentially bad renter. This cost will be passed onto all the renters, including ones with excellent credit and rental histories who pay rent on time and don’t damage the rental property.

As a result, the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance will increase rents, not reduce them and will also decrease rental housing availability as property owners will be more reluctant to rent properties.

Not having a perfect rental history or something in their past that could be a red flag for a property owner, doesn’t mean a landlord will not rent a property to the tenant if the risk can be mitigated. By banning background checks, landlords will no longer have the discretion to adjust the rental agreement to mitigate any additional potential cost.

Background checks on renters should be allowed which benefits both renter and property owner.

Mark Harmsworth is the director of the Small Business Center at the Washington Policy Center.

This opinion piece was produced and first published by the Washington Policy Center. It is published here with the permission of and full attribution to the Washington Policy Center. 

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