City Attorney David Chiu

San Francisco files amicus brief urging federal court to uphold Seattle anti-discrimination law

Brief argues Seattle’s “fair chance” ordinance fights discrimination in rental housing and reduces recidivism

SAN FRANCISCO (February 4, 2022) — San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu filed an amicus brief today urging the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a Seattle law that prevents landlords from discriminating against formerly incarcerated people and others with criminal records. The brief, filed on behalf of the City and the International Municipal Lawyers Association, calls on the Court to affirm a July 2021 lower court decision that supported Seattle’s “fair chance” law, which bars landlords from asking tenants about criminal history or using that information to deny access to housing.

City Attorney David Chiu
City Attorney David Chiu

“Every person deserves a safe and stable home,” said City Attorney Chiu. “Ensuring that formerly incarcerated people who have paid their debt to society can be housed benefits all of us. We urge the Court not to allow discriminatory housing barriers that have exacerbated tragic and costly cycles of homelessness and incarceration.”

Seattle’s ordinance, passed in 2018, prohibits landlords from asking tenants about criminal history and from taking adverse actions against tenants based on information related to criminal history. Numerous state and local governments across the country have similar fair chance laws, including San Francisco which passed an ordinance in 2014 that prohibited landlords and employers from inquiring about or considering certain types of criminal history.

The brief argues that fair chance laws are a crucial tool that state and local governments need to address racial discrimination in housing, since the denial of housing based on criminal history has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color.

In 2018, landlords and a landlord advocacy organization filed a lawsuit challenging Seattle’s law. The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington ruled in favor of Seattle in 2021, upholding the law. The landlord groups then appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case is Yim v. City of Seattle, in the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, Appeal No. 21-35567. A copy of the amicus brief can be found here.