Berkeley considers removing criminal background checks from housing applications

Bay Area

BERKELEY (KRON) – “When you get ready to get married, you scrutinize,” Jim Smith said. “Well a tenant is almost like getting married. That person might be in your life for the next 20 years, so you really scrutinize very carefully who you rent to.”

40 year Berkeley landlord Jim Smith isn’t impressed with the fair chance access to housing and public safety legislation put forth by the city.

The ordinance would remove criminal background checks for most rental units, barring Berkeley landlords from conducting them. 

“I think it’s quite interesting when they can’t even come up with a hard number,” Smith said.

During a community forum Saturday, Smith wasn’t given a solid answer when he asked how many of Berkeley’s homeless were facing the issue because of their criminal history.

John Jones III says he’s lived it. 

“I’m currently living in what I would consider substandard housing,” Jones said. “I’m currently renting two rooms in a renovated basement.”

Jones said the proposal would still allow landlords to evaluate a tenant’s application, through credit checks, employment verification and personal references.

He hopes getting rid of the criminal background box on applications will open more doors. 

“Do we use fear to use that record to say this person will continue to engage in this behavior?” Jones said. “Or do we look at the full body of work to see what this person has done since they’ve been released?”

The Berkeley Property Owners Association still isn’t convinced though, and feel the ordinance needs to be reworked

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity there for us to look at it more closely,” Krista Gulbransen said. “And to make decisions based on sort of a tiered decision as opposed to this blanket all or nothing.”

Berkeley’s land use, housing and economic development committee unanimously supported the legislation this week.

It expects to send it to the full council in early 2020. 

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