It's not uncommon to hear about mandatory background check requirements for certain jobs, like teachers or doctors. Usually, though, in the areas of real estate and property rental, background checks are more up to the individual landlord or realtor. In Binghamton, New York, though, landlords could soon have no choice in whether or not to running background checks on prospective tenants. According to a report from Binghamton-based newspaper Press& Sun-Bulletin, the Binghamton City Council is considering a local law that would mandate background checks for all tenants or residents of the city.
The legislation is called the Neighborhood Protection Integrity Act and basically makes due diligence a matter of law for realtors and landlords in Binghamton. By requiring those renting or selling property to screen potential tenants or buyers, the city of Binghamton would be looking to keep potentially dangerous individuals—like sex offenders or violent criminals—from setting down roots in the area.
The councilman who proposed the legislation did so based on the rising crime levels in Binghamton, as well as what he perceived as a decline in the aesthetics of the properties in the city. Presumably, this background check requirement would help cut down on crime while also returning a friendlier look and feel to the area.
The Binghamton City Council will convene a committee to discuss and potentially revise the Neighborhood Protection Integrity Act later this month. Unsurprisingly, though, the legislation doesn't have the complete support of all council members—not yet, anyway. At least one councilman was worried that requiring landlords might not be entirely legal. Other members argued that, while law forbids landlords and realtors from using factors like race, color, or sexual orientation, there is no explicit language barring property owners from using criminal records to make decisions about who to rent or sell to.
Still, even if outright illegality isn't an issue, a background check requirement like this will probably garner criticism from champions of civil liberties. It could be argued, for example, that a policy like this would have a disparate impact on African American communities. Since African American males are typically more likely to have criminal records than other groups, a policy that makes it more difficult for those individuals to find housing in Binghamton could be viewed as discriminatory based on race.
Then again, the Neighborhood Protection Integrity Act does not include language prohibiting landlords from renting property to individuals with criminal history. Rather, it would just require background checks to take place, with the goal of giving landlords and realtors more knowledge of who they are dealing with. It would then be up to the landlord or realtor to decide whether or not the tenant or buyer in question would pose a threat to the surrounding community.