In December 2021, the New York City Council declined to vote on a piece of legislation that would have made it illegal for landlords and real estate brokers in the city to conduct criminal background checks on potential tenants.
Criminal justice advocates claim that the Fair Chance bill would have made a positive societal difference by making it easier for people with criminal histories to get back on their feet and rebuild their lives. Despite support from some contingents, the bill drew intense criticism from NYC landlords and real estate professionals, which may have ultimately led the City Council to let the bill die without a vote.
The “Fair Chance for Housing Act” was introduced in 2020 by New York City Council member Stephen Levin. If passed, the legislation would have effectively banned landlords and property managers from conducting tenant background checks during the tenant screening process. Former NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, who concluded his term in office on December 31, 2021, supported the legislation for its capacity to eliminate “discriminatory housing practices” in the city that potentially create barriers to rehabilitation and lead to recidivism.
The bill drew sharp criticism from local real estate professionals, including the NYC Rent Stabilization Association (RSA). RSA President Joseph Strasbourg argued that the bill could force landlords into a position of liability by making it impossible for them to learn about violent incidents or other serious crimes in a prospective tenant’s past.
If the landlord of an apartment building were to accept a violent offender without knowing of their past crimes, and that person ended up hurting another tenant in the building, Strasbourg said that the landlord or property manager could be held legally liable or negligent–despite not being allowed to run a background check that might have prevented the incident. Strasbourg also argued that law-abiding tenants deserve to have the peace of mind of knowing that their neighbors have been vetted thoroughly.
While the Fair Chance for Housing Act would have precluded landlords from conducting criminal background checks on tenants, it would have permitted property managers to continue to check sex offender registries.
While the City Council was set to vote on the bill in December, that vote never took place. Strasbourg argued against the legislation at the City Council’s last meeting of December in hopes of swaying on-the-fence council members to oppose the bill.
Typically, if the council declines to vote on a measure such as this one, it’s an indication that the legislation does not have enough support to pass. Since the bill did not receive a vote by the end of the council’s last 2021 session, it is considered dead legislation—however, another council member could re-introduce a similar piece of legislation in the future.
The Fair Chance for Housing Coalition has criticized the NYC City Council for not supporting the Fair Chance bill, deriding members “for succumbing to fear-mongering and pressure from real estate lobbyists, leaving thousands of people with past conviction records stuck in shelters and unstable housing.”
Fair Chance legislation is growing more common throughout the United States in both employment and housing. Employers and landlords should pay close attention to these trends in the months and years to come, as they could impact rules around criminal background checks. Keep an eye on the backgroundchecks.com blog for the latest developments.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is Chief Marketing Technologist at EY-VODW.com and has over two decades of experience in digital consulting, online product management, and technology innovation. He is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments.