NYC Council Reintroduces Bill Barring Background Checks on Prospective Tenants

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NYC Council Reintroduces Bill Barring Background Checks on Prospective Tenants

New York City has reintroduced an anti-discrimination bill. This bill will prohibit most landlords from using criminal history as a factor when determining tenants’ eligibility. Previously, this bill failed to pass after facing stiff resistance from the city’s residents and property owners.

The bill’s supporters argue that passing this legislation is critical for formerly incarcerated individuals. Passing it would allow them to acquire housing amid the city’s housing shortages. According to Majority Leader Keith Powers, the Council member who introduced the bill, most of the Council supports the legislation. However, the circumstances were the same last year, with more than half the Council supporting the bill. Unfortunately, the bill faced widespread opposition from landlords and tenants.

Powers stated that helping the formerly convicted find places to stay is a critical safety matter, especially when they number one in ten New Yorkers. However, property owners have argued that, though many individuals with criminal histories may be excellent tenants, they should be allowed to consider this history when making decisions concerning the safety of their buildings and tenants. The bill’s opponents have also argued that landlords could be liable if those with a criminal history were given a lease and caused harm to others.

However, according to representatives from industry groups, the bill failed to pass last year due to a lack of input from stakeholders. There is potential that this will change during the current legislative period, but the bill’s future is currently uncertain.

Excluding owner-occupied housing, the bill’s current provisions prevent landlords and owners from performing background checks and making decisions based on applicants’ criminal histories. The one exception would be to check the state’s sex offender registry. Performing this due diligence requires a written warning for the renters or buyers that an inquiry is necessary.

It is highly uncertain whether the bill will garner enough support to become law and if these restrictions will have unintentional consequences. In some studies, researchers have found unintended consequences for similar policies, such as “ban-the-box.” For example, young Black and Hispanic men face higher rejection rates where “ban-the-box” policies hold sway. This increase in rejection is due to assumptions that A similar issue could result if landlords and property owners cannot consider criminal records.

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