City To Follow In Other Cities’ Footsteps With Fair Chance For Housing Act
The New York City Council is actively considering passing a law that would ban landlords from conducting tenant criminal background checks, with a few exceptions. In effect, this would prohibit landlords from denying tenants an apartment based solely on criminal history. Council Member Keith Powers, a sponsor of the legislation titled the “Fair Chance for Housing Act,” bans “landlords, owners, agents, employees, and real estate brokers” from using arrest or criminal record information against a tenant.
In a few cases, landlords could use criminal history against a tenant. For example, landlords can verify if a prospective tenant is a convicted sex offender. The law would not apply to single-family homes or duplexes that also serve as the landlord’s primary residence.
New Jersey passed a very similar law in 2021. Other major cities like Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, and Chicago also recently passed similar legislation to ban tenant criminal background checks, with limited exceptions. These laws passed very recently, primarily in the wake of George Floyd’s passing and subsequent national protests.
Because of the recent nature of these bills, there isn’t conclusive, long-term evidence on their effectiveness. However, stakeholders on both sides of the issue in NYC both have passionate arguments in favor or against the legislation. Landlords and developers are the primary opponents of the bill, while housing and tenant advocates are the most prominent supporters.
Even in a progressive, highly democratic city like New York, this bill faces an uphill battle. Opposition from the real estate industry helped kill a similar bill that failed to pass in 2021. In fact, there was so much opposition to the bill among council members that it never even made it to a vote. However, there is now a renewed push to ban tenant criminal background checks as of August 2022, and the New York Times reported that 30 of 51 city council members are now in support of the bill, signaling strong support.
Landlords argue that the bill if passed, would affect their tenant quality and affect their profits. In turn, this could lower their profit margins and increase their insurance and liability costs. However, they are also framing their opposition to the bill as a tenants’ rights issue, claiming that convicted criminals moving into a building could make it less safe.
“If crafted poorly, it could impact other residents living in the building and open up housing providers to more liability and higher insurance costs,” Jay Martin, CHIP’s executive director, said in a statement.
Proponents of the legislation argue that tenant criminal background checks keep people from fully transitioning back to society after serving their time in prison. They say that it puts people at heightened risk of homelessness and makes it more likely that they will be repeat offenders who go back to prison.
Mayor Eric Adams hasn’t commented on the bill specifically, but it’s unlikely that he would veto the bill if it were passed by the NYC City Council. In a recent housing plan, Mayor Eric Adams signaled his support for “creating new anti-discrimination protections for New Yorkers with criminal justice histories.”
Tyler graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2017 with a Bachelor's degree in Urban and Regional Studies. Currently based in Los Angeles, he works as a freelance content writer and copywriter for companies in real estate, property management, and similar industries. Tyler's main professional passion is writing about critical issues affecting big and small cities alike, including housing affordability, homelessness, inequality, and transportation. When he isn't working, he usually plans his next road trip or explores new neighborhoods and hiking trails.