NYC Council approves bill limiting criminal background checks by landlords

December 21, 2023

Image courtesy of Emiliano Bar on Unsplash

The New York City Council on Wednesday passed legislation limiting the use of criminal background checks by landlords when screening tenants. Sponsored by Council Member Keith Powers, “The Fair Chance for Housing Act” amends the city’s Human Rights Law to prohibit landlords, owners, and real estate brokers from rejecting applicants based on past convictions. However, landlords can consider misdemeanor convictions from the last three years and felony convictions within five years. Other exemptions to the bill include certain sex crimes and one- or two-family homes where the owner also lives.

“The Fair Chance for Housing Act will provide thousands of New Yorkers with a second chance to have a stable home, which is the foundation for a stable life,” Powers said. “Mistakes made in the past should not translate into a lifelong struggle to find a place to call home, and it’s time our laws reflect that.”

Under the legislation, landlords must conduct a “fair chance housing process,” in which a property owner who plans to deny a tenant based on a misdemeanor or felony conviction must alert the tenant and provide documentation to support their rejection, according to The Real Deal.

Landlords must supply a written explanation for the rejection and argue why the criminal history is relevant as a “legitimate business interest of the property owners.” Tenants will then have the chance to refute the landlord’s claim and make any corrections to incorrect information about their criminal background.

The new measure also states landlords cannot be held responsible for crimes committed by tenants with criminal histories in their buildings.

Supporters of the legislation believe that the amendment will help combat the city’s homelessness crisis. According to the New York Times, the formerly incarcerated are roughly 10 times more likely to experience homelessness than the general public.

Introduced in 2020, the original version of the bill was defeated by landlords who argued they would be responsible for crimes committed in their building if renting to a tenant with a criminal history, as the Real Deal reported.

“What this bill does, unless it’s been modified dramatically, is it puts criminal privilege against resident safety,” Frank Ricci, executive vice president of the Rent Stabilization Association, said in a statement to Crain’s last summer.

Ricci continued: “Owners believe in second chances, but a criminal background check is one of several tools they have to evaluate prospective new residents in a building. Owners need to have that tool.”

Council Member Powers revived the bill in August 2022, but Mayor Eric Adams requested changes be made to the legislation allowing landlords to review specific types of criminal offenses that occurred during a limited period.

The revised law includes amended language that reflects the state’s Clean Slate Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul in November. The law states that individuals who stay crime-free can have their misdemeanor and felony convictions sealed after three or eight years, respectively, after being sentenced or released from prison. However, violent crimes are not automatically sealed, according to The Real Deal.


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