California Criminal Records Under Attack

A bill aiming to restrict landlords’ and property managers’ ability to factor in criminal records in their resident screening has surfaced in California. Although still in committee, this assembly bill has the ability to change the Californian resident screening process by allowing criminal records to be reviewed only after a conditional offer has been made.

Update: AB 53 Has Died in Committee

AB 53 would revise the California Fair Employment and Housing Act to make it unlawful to inquire about (or require) a rental applicant to disclose any criminal history prior to the “initial application assessment phase.” In addition to incorporating a new screening process, AB 53 would also require rental properties that use criminal records to include a notice within their application. As for the silver lining? If passed, this bill would give the applicant only 2 days to dispute a potential denial with additional evidence of rehabilitation or other factors, rather than 14 days.

While bifurcated screening processes are nothing new, this new legislation represents a growing trend that no rental housing professional wants… at best, more red tape and at worst, a criminal screening ban.

Just as scattered as “ban the box” laws are for employment screening, the resident screening laws that have been proposed so far in 2020 are sprinkled across the best-case and worst-case scenario spectrum. In Cook County, Illinois, their recent ordinance similarly requires a conditional offer before screening for criminal history, but only allows property owners and managers to consider convictions made within the past 3 years. In Oakland, the city council has approved an ordinance that would make it illegal for rental property owners to ask about an applicant’s criminal history or deny them because of their criminal record. This could be one of the strictest screening ordinances in the state, and it’s only January.

As we observed in 2019, 9 different states proposed bills that targeted the use of criminal or eviction records (or both) for resident screening. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled.

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Becky Bower is the Content Strategist here at the CIC Blog. She holds a degree in English, with a focus in creative writing, from CSU Channel Islands. Her biggest weakness is cake and favorite superhero is Batman.

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