NYC council measure in crime-ridden city would ban landlords from performing criminal background checks

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NEW YORK CITY- A bill which would appear to undermine the ability of New York City landlords to perform criminal background checks on prospective tenants is making its way through the city council and is believed on a fast track to becoming law, the New York Post reports.

The outlet reports that at least 30 of 51 city council members are said to back the “Fair Chance for Housing Act,’ which will go for a public hearing before the Council’s Committee on Civil Rights on Dec. 8.

A similar version of the bill failed last year amid protests from landlord advocacy groups and others. However, newly elected city council members have pushed the bill toward what appears to be an inevitable passage. Speaker Adrienne Adams is one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

Moreover, New York City Mayor Eric Adams appears to be more than willing to sign the bill if it makes it to his desk.

“No one should be denied housing because they were once engaged with the criminal justice system, plain and simple,” Adams spokesman Charles Lutvack told the Post.

“We will work closely with our partners in the City Council to ensure that bill has maximum intended impact.”

Opponents to the bill are geared up to vehemently oppose the bill, however some feel waiting for the council meeting shouldn’t wait, claiming the “stakes are too high” and “dangerous” to wait.

For example, City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov (R-Brooklyn) posted an 85-second video on Twitter last week, asking New Yorkers to contact their local city council members and ask them to reject the bill, claiming “the safety of your families…is at stake.”

“What’s on the menu this Thanksgiving?” she said in a post that accompanied the video. “A bill which would prohibit landlords from conducting criminal background checks of potential tenants.

“Murdered someone? Beat up your girlfriend? Robbed? Stabbed your neighbor? No problem. Come live among us! Tell the @NYCCOuncil to vote NO!”

A sponsor of the bill, Manhattan Democrat Keith Powers slammed Vernikov on Twitter, noting that Thanksgiving “is supposed to be a day of gratitude, not attacking. We don’t believe in second chances anymore?”

 

Vernikov responded to Powers, asking if he would “be willing to rent a floor of your home to s/o who has a long rap sheet and history of burglarizing homes/assaulting people?”

“I’m not saying no to second chances, but your bill wouldn’t even allow us to see [a] rap sheet,” Vernikov continued.

 

Powers dismissed Vernikov, writing that she didn’t appear to be “looking for a real conversation on this.”

 

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The bill only affects private landlords, not the New York City Housing Authority. They would still be required to conduct background checks because they operate under federal authority. The bill likewise doesn’t apply to two-family homes, or homeowners who rent out rooms.

The bill would still allow landlords to check the New York state sex offender registry in order to ensure such individuals are not permitted to rent. However the measure still leaves landlords open to possibly renting to sex offenders from out of state, since out-of-state sex offender registries are omitted in the bill.

A spokesman for the Rent Stabilization Association, Vito Signorile, noted that many of the 25,000 landlords his group advocates for are livid that the proposal which is “ex-con friendly” has been resurrected after it was defeated back in 2020, a measure that was drafted by then NYC Councilman Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn).

Moreover, tenants in the buildings are also unhappy about the proposal, with many saying they have no interest in sharing buildings with potentially violent ex-cons or career criminals.

“We are proponents of second chances when it comes to low-level crimes like drug use but renting to people convicted more serious crimes like…arson and murder [and repeat offenders] is a whole other thing,” Signorile said.

Meanwhile, Powers acknowledged concerns being expressed by landlords and tenants but believes people have the right to rehabilitate their lives.

Powers said he’s “very practical about the [city’s] public safety challenges and want[s] people to feel safe wherever they live,” but “it’s also important that people who’ve rehabilitated themselves have an opportunity to be able to stabilize their lives.”

Powers said the bill may be able to receive some tweaks in order to address concerns expressed by opponents.

Andre Ward, associate vice president at the Fortune Society, a nonprofit that helps former incarcerated prisoners integrate back into society believes the bill is long overdue, claiming that “about half” of people leaving city jails these days wind up homeless and in shelters.

“We think this legislation is critical to supporting people upon their release so they can live a life of contribution,” said Ward.


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