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Federal court rules Seattle landlords can ask about criminal history

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A federal court has struck down half of Seattle's Fair Chance Housing Ordinance.

The ordinance, passed by the Seattle City Council in 2017, prohibits landlords from asking about prospective tenants’ criminal history.

It was backed by then City Council member Bruce Harrell, the city's current mayor, to protect people with criminal histories from housing discrimination.

But the Rental Housing Association of Washington sued, saying the law violated landlord rights.

On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. The court ruled that banning landlords from asking about criminal history violates their First Amendment rights.

The Rental Housing Association is celebrating this as a win for landlords, said Executive Director Sean Flynn.

"I think this is the appellate court pushing back on where the city of Seattle has legislatively infringed on our constitutional rights," Flynn said. "And we hope that and challenge the city of Seattle to do better in the future."

Flynn said laws still remain that are attempting to fix the problem of discrimination in our society. But, he said, this ruling says "that governments can't pass laws that stifle our free speech in order to fix those problems of discrimination."

But, Seattle's Fair Chance law is still partially in place after today's ruling.

The federal appeals court upheld the second half of the law, which is about what landlords do with the criminal history information.

Seattle prohibits landlords from denying a person tenancy based on their criminal past. That will remain illegal in Seattle.

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