Los Angeles Moves to Prohibit Landlords From Inquiring Tenants’ Eviction, Criminal Histories

By City News Service
City News Service
City News Service
March 9, 2022 Updated: March 10, 2022

LOS ANGELES—Los Angeles introduced on March 9 several motions to prohibit landlords from inquiring about a prospective tenant’s credit, eviction, or criminal histories, and require them to disclose in writing how they select tenants.

The legislative package—containing three motions—was introduced by Councilmen Mike Bonin and Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Councilwoman Nithya Raman, who said it would help combat renter discrimination and help people impacted by the pandemic financially or experiencing homelessness secure housing faster.

The motions will next be reviewed by the City Council’s Housing Committee before being considered by the full City Council.

The first motion would have the council instruct the city attorney to prepare an ordinance within 45 days that would prohibit landlords or their agents from inquiring about a prospective tenant’s failure to pay rent or bills during the COVID-19 emergency period, prior or current participation in a rental assistance program, eviction history, or credit history in the evaluation of their rental application.

“People with property should focus on whether prospective renters can pay the rent by asking about a prospective tenant’s income or their history of on-time payments, not invasive, unrelated personal questions. When you buy groceries, the teller doesn’t do a credit check. They just need to know whether you can pay and the same should be true for landlords,” said Cynthia Strathmann, executive director of Strategic Actions for A Just Economy—a nonprofit focusing on tenant rights—at the meeting.

Raman noted that people can be penalized by credit checks for prioritizing their rental payments above all else, causing problems when they look for housing in the future despite not missing rent payments.

“When people have a home, they work so hard to stay in it. They will pay for rent before they pay for food. They will pay for rent certainly before they make those credit card payments. And instead of rewarding them for that, our current system … actually penalizes them for that,” she said.

The second motion seeks an ordinance presented to the City Council within 60 days to require landlords to disclose in writing to prospective applicants the screening criteria they use to evaluate and select tenants. Landlords would also be required to tell rejected tenants why they were not successful in renting the unit.

Bonin spoke about unhoused people who receive emergency housing vouchers from the federal government, but cannot find a landlord to accept the voucher.

“They may have the voucher, but they get dinged for something else. They continue to live on our streets, they may die on our streets. Our homelessness crisis gets work. This is a recipe for a crisis, a crisis of homelessness and a crisis for housing instability,” Bonin said.

The third motion seeks a prospective ordinance within 45 days to prohibit landlords from inquiring directly or indirectly about a rental applicant’s criminal history, or if the information is received, from using it in their evaluation about the application. That ordinance would be modeled after similar “Fair Chance Housing Ordinances” in Oakland and Berkeley.

Owner-occupied properties and shared living arrangements would be exempt from the ordinance, according to the motion.

“These motions today take away a lot of the proxies that people use in order to not call out race,” Harris-Dawson said. “Another one of the things we face in a part of our district is certain landlords say, ‘We’ll only rent to a person who is a student’ or ‘We’ll only rent to a person who works in this kind of industry.’ These motions today help us target what is a frankly very open, very mean, and very capricious practice in the city that happens every single day.”

Dan Yukelson, executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles—who had not seen the motions at the time he spoke to City News Service—said his organization has opposed similar efforts to prevent landlords from considering potential renters’ criminal records.

“Nobody will ever rent out their apartments if they can’t check on something like whether somebody has been a criminal. What if someone is a child molester and you have young children in the building?” he said.

Joyce Kuo contributed to this report.