City Council poised to ban tenant background checks

Rent Stabilization Association slams bill, citing safety concerns

Mayor Bill de Blasio (Getty, iStock)
Mayor Bill de Blasio (Getty, iStock)

The City Council came to a head with landlord groups this week over a bill that would severely undercut landlords’ ability to run criminal background checks on potential tenants.

Under the bill, on track to pass this month, landlords would be blocked from running criminal record checks on potential tenants before leasing their units. The legislation would apply to criminal cases that are pending, as well as past cases and convictions.

The bill would apply to prospective tenants of apartment buildings, co-ops and condos, possibly affecting several million residents across the city, CBS New York reported.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has thrown his support behind the bill and Council member Stephen Levin is a sponsor. In a statement reported by CBS New York, Levin said he upholds the bill as an opportunity to break down barriers in housing inequality.

“Safe and stable housing is a right every New Yorker deserves, yet conviction records continue to be used to punish and discriminate against people long after they have left the criminal legal system,” Levin stated.

De Blasio’s spokesperson Mitch Schwartz echoed Levin’s comments, saying “discriminatory housing practices” worsen recidivism.

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Landlord groups are fighting the bill, although they have gotten little traction with the Council in recent years. Joseph Strasburg of the Rent Stabilization Association slammed the bill in comments to CBS New York, saying the group feared tenants would find themselves sharing their buildings with violent criminals.

The RSA president cited the possibility of tenants living with people who have committed murder, assault and sex crimes. The bill includes language permitting landlords to consult the sex offender registry.

While criminal background checks would be outlawed, landlords would be able to pursue an eviction after one of their tenants is victimized, a spokesperson for the mayor told WCBS.

The City Council has been considering a ban on background checks for tenants as early as September 2020. Previous “ban the box” laws that forbid employers from asking job applicants about criminal histories have hurt minorities, economists say, as employers guess at criminal histories and screen out young Black and Latino men.

The lame duck de Blasio administration is trying to get a few more notches on its legislative belt before exiting office. A deal reached late Wednesday appears poised to usher in a ban on the use of gas in new buildings.

[CBS2] — Holden Walter-Warner