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Oakland Weighs Ban On Criminal Background Checks For Prospective Tenants

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- On Tuesday night, the city of Oakland is considering a new ordinance that would ban landlords from conducting criminal background checks on prospective tenants.

It only seems fair that people would want to know the character of the person they were considering as tenants for their property. But fair housing advocates say when felons are constantly asked to admit their past, their punishment never ends.

The ordinance was welcome news to one man who has struggled to put his past behind him.

John Jones III got out of prison in 2012. Though he has a well-paying job as an aviation mechanic, it has been a struggle finding a place to live in Oakland.

"And I noticed as the rents were increasing and gentrification was taking place, more and more landlords and property managers started advertising explicitly, 'clean criminal record,'" Jones said.

Oakland may become the first major city in California to ban criminal background checks in housing at a time when many can't find housing at all. Jones says when someone checks that box on an application about having committed a felony, they don't even get a call back.

"It does something to you. It really does," said Jones. "Psychologically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally. And you can even reach a point where you just give up looking."

A recent survey showed that 73 percent of Oakland's homeless encampment residents have criminal records.  Jones thinks many of them wouldn't be accepted as tenants, even if they could afford the rent.

"There's a saying that a lot of people share who have done time: It seems like the punishment don't really begin until you come home," said Jones.

If the criminal background check is banned, Oakland landlords would still be able to verify income, employment, rental history and prior landlord references.

Proponents of the ordinance say it would give a chance for decent housing to thousands of formerly incarcerated people who want to turn their lives around. Of course, landlords may ask, what about those who don't?

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