Oakland is the first California city to ban criminal background checks on renters

California Connection

OAKLAND, Calif. (CNN) — Landlords in Oakland, California, will no longer be allowed to turn away potential renters because of their criminal histories after the City Council passed a new measure it hoped would also tackle the city’s homelessness crisis.

The ordinance, passed by a unanimous vote Tuesday, means landlords are prohibited from requiring applicants to disclose their criminal histories. They would face fines of up to $1,000 for each violation.

John Jones III told CNN affiliate KPIX he had “indescribable emotions and feelings” after Oakland’s new ordinance passed. He was released from prison in 2012, but even with a job as an aviation mechanic, he’s had trouble finding a home, he said.

Proponents of the measure, called the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance, hope it’ll tackle several problems at once. They believe it’ll give formerly incarcerated folks a fair shot at a place to live, reduce the chances they end up back in prison by providing stable housing, and reduce the wider issue of homelessness, which jumped 16.4% in the state in 2019.

“When you have a safe place to call home … you’re in a stronger position to get a job,” Jones told KPIX, “to go to school, to get help that you need.”

“We’ve all made mistakes,” he added. “Who wants to be permanently punished for a mistake they have made?”

The ordinance would even help Councilmember Larry Reid’s son, who’s expected to be released from prison in the next few months, Reid said.

“This piece of legislation is going to make a huge difference in his life as he begins to do the things that he ought to be doing,” Reid said, “to improve the quality of his life and for my two granddaughters.”

Some properties are exempt, including single-family homes and government-funded housing. Landlords will also still be able to consider whether a potential renter is a on the state’s sex offender registry.

The ordinance will be up for a final reading on February 4.

Similar measures have been put in place in other cities around the country, like in Seattle. Oakland’s neighbor, the city of San Francisco, has a similar ordinance — but it only applies to affordable housing.

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