There’s a new bill making its way through the Oregon state legislature that, if passed and signed into law, would make it illegal for landlords to refuse to rent their own privately owned property to certain convicted criminals based on their arrest history.
According to this, S.B. 291 would ban property owners from considering a rental applicant’s criminal or arrest history if that person has entered into a pre-trial rehab program, received a deferred judgment, or whose crime has been removed from public records. The Washington Examiner notes these qualifiers often refer to drug crimes involving weed, which used to be illegal in Oregon.
Translation: for example, if you were caught with a bunch of pot back when it was illegal, even though you knew it was illegal at the time you did it, a landlord wouldn’t be able to take your criminal drug conviction into account when considering whether to rent you a house that they personally own, simply because what you were arrested for is no longer a crime.
Per the bill, landlords would be required "to adopt certain written screening criteria made available to applicants before accepting application," "Limits criminal behavior landlord may consider in screening applicant," and "Requires landlord to conduct individualized assessment of applicant and specify any basis for denial."
According to the bill, a landlord may only deny a rental application if the person filing it has been convicted of a sex crime, a "person crime" such as assault or rape, financial fraud, a drug crime not solely involving marijuana, or "Any other crime if the conduct [is] of a nature that would adversely affect: Property of the landlord or a tenant; or the health, safety or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises of residents, the landlord or the landlord’s agent."
The bill is backed by several racial equality groups that claim black tenants are more likely to be denied rent opportunities than their white counterparts, often because of their disproportionately higher rates of criminal history. The bill, if it makes it to her desk, is likely to be signed by Democrat Gov. Kate Brown as part of a "racial justice" plan to deal with alleged housing inequities.
Critics, however, say the new process would actually hurt would-be renters because it requires landlords to adopt a “written screening process” including asking about a person’s criminal history and whether, for example, they entered a diversion program, saying that requiring that information - and mandating that landlords ask for it - is a violation of renters' privacy.
The bill would also require landlords to give would-be renters a written explanation of why their application was denied within 14 days, instead of simple issuing it upon request as is currently mandated by law.