Housing

NYC could ban criminal background checks on potential tenants

The real estate lobby is opposed.

New York City Councilman Stephen Levin.

New York City Councilman Stephen Levin. John McCarten/New York City Council

New York City Councilman Stephen Levin, with 18 cosponsors, has introduced a bill to ban landlords from running criminal background checks on potential tenants because it prevents formerly incarcerated individuals from securing stable housing. The proposed legislation applies to most rentals, leases, sublets, or any occupancy agreements. The main exception to the proposed regulation is if someone is renting out a space in the residence where their family also lives.

The bill, which would not supersede existing legislation on sex offender registration or regulations governing renting to those convicted of drug production, is being opposed by landlord groups including the Real Estate Board of New York and the Rent Stabilization Association, the latter of which has said the proposal puts other tenants’ safety at risk and is too vague in its current iteration. 

Levin told City & State he introduced the bill now because of a renewed focus on the city homeless shelters in light of the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in them. There are more than 17,000 single adults currently in shelters according to the Department of Homeless Services, an increase of more than 7,000 people since five years ago at the same time of year. Levin noted the surge in the number of single adults in homeless shelters goes back more than a decade, but the crux of the problem is that many of these adults have been discharged from prison “without ever having stable housing … they're discharging them to a shelter.”

Levin said formerly incarcerated individuals who have paid their debt to society and are meeting parole requirements deserve a fair chance at restarting their lives, adding that “our system of laws does not allow the state to punish people in perpetuity.”

“I’ve heard this from constituents for years who have cried to me on the phone numerous times and they didn’t have to deal with this issue (of a criminal record),” Levin, who represents northwestern Brooklyn, said. “The ability to have a stable life starts with having stable housing.”

For Hilton Webb, who spent 27 years in prison after being convicted for muder and assault, it has been impossible. “I’m a fat, 65-year-old man, I’m not a threat to anybody,” Webb told City & State. He said the last time he tried to get an apartment he was turned away by one landlord even before filling out an application after noting his last two former residences: the 30th Street Men’s Shelter and the Ulster Correctional Facility in Napanoch.

Webb, who said he built up a credit score of 700 in the years since his release, has been getting his master’s degree in social work at Lehman College. He has met all parole requirements and was even released from his obligations to check in with his parole officer and comply with drug testing early.

He considers himself lucky to have landed temporary housing with the Fortune Society, a nonprofit which helps the formerly incarcerated with housing, job searching, and adjusting to life after prison. Webb hopes that his credit score, whatever income he may be earning once he becomes a social worker, and using the Fortune Society residence in Harlem as his most recent address will be enough to get an apartment, but without protection from discrimination he is not sure. 

Webb explained part of his graduate research work is on the tie between a lack of secure housing and recidivism rates, especially for those who have spent time in prison for minor offenses. Without a stable residence, formerly incarcerated people may have trouble securing employment. Not having a job leads to less financial security and independence, which has been known to lead people back into a life of petty crimes or illegal employment in order to survive.

Part of the opposition to the proposed bill is that there isn’t a lot of research on the effect of laws such as this. Fair chance ordinances in cities like San Francisco and Detroit were passed relatively recently. 

Groups like REBNY and the Rent Stabilization Association are arguing that the real success of these new regulations was public outreach, education, and training of property owners first and foremost – issues not necessarily covered in the proposed language. Basha Gerhards, vice president of policy and planning at REBNY, told City & State that while “it is important to discuss the intersection between the justice system and access to housing,” this legislation needs to better “balance equal obligations to prospective and existing tenants.” 

Landlords would need to be clearly informed of what their obligations are in terms of federal, state and city laws and if any of those conflict with the new law. Accepting Section 8 housing vouchers also requires some level of screening for drug use and certain types of criminal convictions like the production of methamphetamines, sexual assault or pedophilia, and also credit and eviction checks. 

The other concern brought up during the public comment period is what kinds of liability are property owners going to face, should the legislation pass. Supporters of the bill respond by noting that no landlord has ever been held liable for the failure to perform a background check.

Despite the opposition, Levin remains hopeful that the bill will pass and be signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio. “I’ve never had the (mayoral) administration be so enthusiastic and supportive of a piece of legislation,” he said. However, neither City Hall nor City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s office responded to requests for comment. As far as a timeline for when the bill could pass, Johnson’s spokesperson only said, “the bill is going through the legislative process.” 

Correction: This article has been revised to clarify liability law precedent.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.