New York City May Ban Tenant Criminal Background Checks

After she was launched from jail in 2011, Kandra Clark spent 5 years sleeping on mates’ couches whereas trying to find a brand new residence in New York City.

She had a full-time job, however landlords routinely denied Ms. Clark’s rental purposes, citing background checks that she believed had flagged her fraud-related conviction. Ms. Clark, 37, who’s now an government at a nonprofit group that helps previously incarcerated folks, finally discovered a landlord who accepted her utility, in Queens, however the course of was “exhausting and defeating,” she stated.

Now, New York City is prone to be a part of numerous different cities in limiting the power of landlords to display screen tenants based mostly on their felony data, which may have an effect on hundreds of individuals searching for housing within the metropolis.

A invoice to be launched in City Council on Thursday would, with a couple of exceptions, ban landlords and brokers from searching for an individual’s felony data, and bar them from denying housing due to prior arrests or convictions. The mayor has signaled that he’s favorable.

Criminal background checks are sometimes a routine a part of making use of for an residence in New York City and elsewhere, and advocates for landlords and business teams keep the practices are important.

Nicole Upano, assistant vice chairman of the Nationwide House Affiliation, stated that felony background checks “are a critical element of a rental housing provider’s efforts to keep their apartment communities, residents and staff safe.”

However a rising variety of locations across the nation, together with New Jersey, San Francisco and Prepare dinner County in Illinois, which encompasses Chicago, have curtailed the power of landlords to verify and display screen tenants based mostly on their felony data.

Such practices place folks prone to homelessness and recidivism, in keeping with politicians and housing advocates, and disproportionately have an effect on Black and Latino communities who’re overrepresented within the justice system.

An analogous invoice didn’t move the New York City Council final 12 months, after property homeowners and landlord teams lobbied in opposition to it.

However this 12 months, a brand new City Council has signaled a extra progressive method towards felony justice, and the invoice already has the help of greater than 30 of the 51 City Council members. In a housing plan launched this 12 months, Mayor Eric Adams stated he would help a invoice “creating new anti-discrimination protections for New Yorkers with criminal justice histories.”

Mr. Adams’s deputy press secretary Charles Kretchmer Lutvak stated in a press release: “No one should be denied housing because they were once engaged with the criminal justice system, plain and simple.”

An estimated 750,000 residents of New York City have a felony conviction, in keeping with the Truthful Likelihood for Housing, a bunch that has advocated for the invoice’s passage. A 2018 report from the Jail Coverage Initiative, a nonprofit group that advocates for felony justice reform, discovered that previously incarcerated persons are almost 10 occasions extra prone to be homeless than most people.

The push in New York City comes as public officers have grappled with an uptick in homelessness after the worst of the pandemic, underscoring how town’s housing disaster has made it more and more tough to search out an reasonably priced residence.

Greater than 50,000 folks have been staying in New York City shelters final week, in keeping with a tally compiled by the information web site City Limits, and Mr. Adams has made addressing homelessness a important focus of his first 12 months in workplace.

Keith Powers, a councilman from Manhattan and one of many sponsors on the invoice, stated he hears each day from New Yorkers who’re anxious about homelessness and making housing extra accessible. “Right here we have a tool that can accomplish that,” he stated.

A number of states and cities have moved to restrict employers from asking about felony convictions through the preliminary job screening course of in what has turn out to be generally known as the “ban the box” motion.

In 2016, the Obama administration stated that personal landlords who put blanket bans on renting to folks with felony data — quite than contemplating every applicant’s felony document, the character of the crime and size of time since conviction — could also be in violation of federal regulation. And in April, Marcia L. Fudge, the US secretary of housing and concrete improvement, directed the division to assessment its applications and ensure they’re “as inclusive as possible of individuals with criminal histories.”

The invoice in New York City carves out some exceptions. It might not apply to one- or two-family houses the place the property proprietor additionally lives. It doesn’t bar landlords from checking whether or not a potential tenant is a registered intercourse offender.

Below the invoice, somebody who believes they’ve been discriminated in opposition to due to their felony historical past may file a lawsuit in opposition to a landlord or a grievance with the New York City Fee on Human Rights.

However it’s unclear how ready town is to implement the invoice’s provisions. It already struggles to implement a regulation that stops housing discrimination in opposition to individuals who rely upon rental vouchers.

The invoice is probably going to attract opposition from some property homeowners and business teams.

A spokesman for the Actual Property Board of New York, an business group for brokers and property homeowners that had beforehand opposed a model of the invoice, stated the group will “review any legislation put forth on this issue.”

Vito Signorile, a vice chairman on the Hire Stabilization Affiliation, which represents about 25,000 homeowners, stated the group helped defeat the invoice final 12 months, partly as a result of tenants in additional than 40 council districts had raised considerations about their security. He stated the brand new council will probably encounter related resistance.

“Everybody deserves second chances,” he stated. “But there has to be a line in terms of who you’re vetting to rent an apartment in your building.”