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City Could Ban Criminal Background Checks on Co-op Buyers

Bill Morris in Featured Articles on August 11, 2022

New York City

Criminal background checks, co-op boards and landlords, Fair Chance Act, New York City Council.
Aug. 11, 2022

Here we go again. Late last year, the New York City Council defeated a bill — strongly opposed by co-op activists and landlords — that would have barred them from running criminal background checks on potential renters and apartment buyers, and also prevented them from rejecting applicants because of prior arrests or convictions. Today, a similar bill will be introduced before the council. This time, however, there’s progressive new blood on the council, and more than 30 of the 51 members support the bill, The New York Times reports. So does Mayor Eric Adams.

One thing that hasn’t changed 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,” Schreiber adds, “we believe people should have a second chance. 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.”

Frank Ricci, executive vice president of the RSA, tells Crain’s: “What this bill does, unless it’s been modified dramatically, is it puts criminal privilege against resident safety.” 

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If the bill passes, boards and landlords will still have some protections. 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 city's Commission on Human Rights.

The bill’s supporters say it will help address the chronic problems of homelessness and lack of affordable housing in the city. There are now more than 50,000 people living in New York City homeless shelters, and in the past three months, according to testimony at a city council hearing on Tuesday, more than 4,000 asylum seekers have tried to gain access to shelters, including dozens bused to New York by the Republican governor or Texas, Greg Abbott. He labeled New York City “an ideal destination” for asylum seekers due to its status as a sanctuary city, where municipal laws protect undocumented immigrants from deportation or prosecution. 

If the new bill becomes law, it will be a companion to the Fair Chance Act of 2015. Under that law, employers with four or more employees, including co-op and condo boards, are forbidden 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 then required to give the applicant a written copy of the reasons the job offer was revoked. Acceptable grounds for revoking a job offer are if there’s 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.

New Jersey, San Francisco and Chicago have already curtailed the ability of landlords to screen tenants based on their criminal records. Will New York City be next?

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