A bill to bar co-op and condo boards (and landlords) from running criminal background checks on potential apartment buyers or renters and preventing job applicant rejection because of prior arrests or convictions has been reintroduced into the New York City Council. It had been rejected in 2021, but this time more than 30 of the 51 members reportedly support it, as does Mayor Eric Adams.
In late 2021, the New York City Council defeated a bill that barred landlords, including co-op and condo boards, from running criminal background checks on potential renters and apartment buyers, and also prevented them from rejecting applicants because of prior arrests or convictions. Similar legislation was recently introduced before the council, and this time more than 30 of the 51 members reportedly support it, including mayor Eric Adams.
Holding their ground. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the opposition to the bill by co-op advocates and landlord groups. “It’s well-intended but misguided legislation,” says Warren Schreiber, board president of the 200-unit Bay Terrace Section 1 co-op in Queens and co-head of the Presidents Co-op & Condo Council (PCCC), which advocates on behalf of more than 100,000 units of housing in the city. The PCCC joined with the Real Estate Board of New York and the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), which represents 25,000 property owners and managers, in opposing the bill last year.
“In my co-op, we believe people should have a second chance,” Schreiber says. “But there are some egregious crimes where neighbors won’t feel safe having that person living next door. Co-op boards should have the ability to run criminal background checks. It’s part of our application process at Bay Terrace. If this bill passes, it’s going to put people at risk.”
Exceptions to the rule. Boards and landlords will still have some protections under the new legislation. The bill does not bar checking whether a prospective tenant or buyer is a registered sex offender, and it would not apply to one- or two-family homes if the owner lives there. New York City Housing Authority properties would still be allowed to run criminal background checks on prospective tenants. Under the bill, people who believe they have been discriminated against because of their criminal history could file a lawsuit against the landlord or co-op board, or they could file a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights.
If the new bill becomes law, it will be a companion to the Fair Chance Act of 2015, which forbids employers with four or more employees, including co-op and condo boards, from inquiring about a job applicant’s criminal history until after they have made a provisional job offer. If an employer decides to withdraw a conditional job offer after examining the applicant’s criminal history, the employer is required to give the applicant a written copy of the reasons the offer was revoked. Acceptable grounds include a “direct relationship” between the criminal offense and the job’s requirements, or if the hiring would create a “reasonable risk” to property or personal safety.