NYC may ban tenant criminal background checks by landlords and brokers
Legislation prohibiting landlords from denying tenants housing based on criminal history will be introduced in the New York City Council on Thursday. The “Fair Chance for Housing” bill, sponsored by Council Member Keith Powers, bans “landlords, owners, agents, employees, and real estate brokers” from obtaining arrest or criminal record information at any point in the housing process.
There are a few exceptions laid out in the legislation. Landlords would not be restricted from checking whether a prospective tenant is a sex offender, and the legislation would not apply to one or two-family homes where the landlord also lives.
Research has shown a connection between housing discrimination and incarceration. As Crain’s reported, a 2015 survey of 500 New York landlords found that 53 percent would not let prospective tenants with a criminal history view a property.
Proponents of the bill say that the legislation will address the city’s current housing crisis. According to the New York Times, those who were formerly incarcerated are approximately 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public. Furthermore, the restrictions would disproportionately target Black and brown New Yorkers.
“We’re grappling with the highest levels of homelessness in a very long time and it’s just crystal clear at this point that we need big and bold action to get New Yorkers the homes that they deserve,” Powers said during a rally at City Hall before the vote on the legislation.
Landlords have expressed concern about the bill, saying that the criminal background check is an essential step in the housing process to ensure that their tenants are safe.
“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.
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.”
In his Housing Our Neighbors: A Blueprint for Housing and Homeless plan released in June, Mayor Eric Adams said that he would support a bill that would protect New Yorkers with criminal histories from housing discrimination. The legislation is also backed by the majority of the City Council, according to the New York Times.
If the legislation passes, NYC will join the state of New Jersey, Seattle, and San Francisco in ensuring those with criminal histories have equitable access to housing.