City Hall Likely to Limit Criminal Background Checks on Landlords

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There are an estimated 750,000 people in New York City who have a conviction on their record. They are often prohibited from buying a home or renting an apartment because of those convictions, according to testimony from city officials, housing advocates and landlord groups.

That makes them more likely to become homeless, which is one of the city's biggest problems. According to the most recent figures, more than 122,000 people live in urban shelters.

However, making housing more affordable can help prevent crime, according to several studies.

There is also evidence that background checks can inadvertently penalize people by returning inaccurate results.

The bill is the product of years of negotiations between criminal justice reform advocates, property owners groups, City Hall and the City Council.

Similar legislation was introduced in Council in 2020 but did not pass.

The current legislation was introduced last year by Councilman Keith Powers, a Manhattan Democrat. It incorporates the opinions of some landlords and tenants who view background checks as a security measure.

“We believe the bill we are voting on strikes the right balance,” said Council Member Powers.

In addition to allowing landlords to conduct background checks during set periods of time, the bill allows background checks in cases involving single-family and two-family homes where the landlord also lives. It also allows owners to conduct investigations based on convictions for certain sex crimes.

Andre Ward, associate vice president of policy at the Fortune Society, a nonprofit group that works on behalf of formerly incarcerated people, said he supported the bill while acknowledging it was “not ideal.”

“But in the end we want to make sure this legislation affects as many people as possible,” he said.

In a statement, Mayor Eric Adams expressed his support and thanked the City Council for putting in “the right guardrails” and ensuring the bill has “the maximum intended impact.”

Although the proposal introduced last year was supported by a majority of City Council members, some tenants, landlord groups and Mr. Adams called for changes to the bill's language out of concern that the rules were too broad. . Some are still dissatisfied.

“We need to know everything we can about the people we invite to join our community,” said Mary Ann Rothman, executive director of the New York Council of Cooperatives and Condominiums.

Ms. Rothman said the council had been asked to help shape the final version of the bill and was encouraged that landlords were given limited ability to conduct background checks. But she said the group was still “concerned” about the legislation.



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