Council looks to expand tenant discrimination laws

One bill would ban criminal background checks, despite potential to backfire

TRD New York /
Sep.September 14, 2020 06:11 PM
The City Council on Tuesday will consider a series of bills aimed at curbing renter discrimination (iStock)

The City Council on Tuesday will consider a series of bills aimed at curbing renter discrimination (iStock)

The City Council on Tuesday will consider a series of bills that would increase protections against renter discrimination.

The measures would ban discrimination based on renters’ criminal histories and lawful sources of income — namely federal, state, or local public assistance.

Under current law, landlords cannot reject applications for apartments in properties with six or more units based on a prospective tenant’s income source. A bill sponsored by Council member Keith Powers would expand the law to properties with three or more apartments.

Another bill seeks to bar real estate brokers, landlords or their affiliates from conducting criminal background checks or asking applicants if they have ever been arrested or convicted.

“We need to stop the prison-to-shelter pipeline and to end the use of discriminatory background checks in housing,” Council member Stephen Levin, one of the bill’s sponsors, said during a Council meeting last month.

He called a stable home critical for success after incarceration. “It increases an individuals’ ability to gain employment and foster supportive relationships, both of which contribute to greater public safety and lower taxpayer costs,” said Powers.

The Council member noted that other cities including San Francisco, Richmond and Seattle have similar laws.

But “ban the box” laws — which forbid employers from asking job applicants about their criminal history — have actually hurt minorities, economists say: Employers guess which applicants have criminal histories, and thus screen out young Black and Latino men.

The New York bills will be heard by the City Council’s Committee on Civil and Human Rights.

Also on Tuesday, the City Council’s zoning subcommittee is hosting a hearing on the controversial proposal to rezone Industry City.

During a press conference Monday, Andrew Kimball, the CEO of the Sunset Park business campus, indicated he would offer the City Council a deal under which the expansion of the Sunset Park campus would depend directly on the number of jobs created.

Kimball said if the rezoning is not approved, the development team may move forward with an office-only or last-mile warehouse distribution project. The Council must make a decision by early November.






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