Criminal background checks bill stalls in Assembly committee

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The California Apartment Association helped derail legislation that would make running background checks on prospective tenants overly complicated and a magnet for unwarranted lawsuits.

In May, Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, withdrew this year’s efforts to pass AB 396, which got as far as the Appropriations Committee.

Reginald Jones-Sawyer

Reginald Jones-Sawyer

The author had cited four goals with AB 396:

  • To reduce recidivism rates by providing stable housing.
  • To keep families together.
  • To prevent homelessness.
  • To prohibit unfair discrimination that is based upon reasons that have no bearing on the success of a tenancy.

Despite laudable goals, AB 396 would have had several undesirable impacts.
For example, it would have invited lawsuits against landlords who run criminal background checks and ultimately reject applicants. Conversley, it would have offered insufficient protections for landlords who approve applicants found to have criminal pasts. Despite demands by CAA, the wording in AB 396 failed to hold the landlord harmless from civil or criminal penalties for any personal injury, property or other damage or loss caused by the accepted applicant.

Moreover, it would have made the criminal background check process exceedingly cumbersome. In the end, the bill would have discouraged apartment owners from using criminal background checks at all, rendering useless a tool that now keeps violent ex-cons out of apartment communities.

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