NYC Council Committee holds hearing on bill ending tenant criminal background checks

Those opposing the bill rallied on the City Hall steps Wednesday. Today, those in favor are expected to do the same.

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Thursday, December 8, 2022
NYC considers bill to end tenant criminal background checks
NYC council held a hearing on Fair Chance for Housing Act that would ban landlords from running criminal background checks. Janice Yu has the story.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- A bill under consideration by the NYC Council would ban landlords from performing criminal background checks on prospective tenants.

Supporters of the measure say lifting background checks would prevent discrimination while opponents say eliminating the screening is dangerous.

The Committee on Civil and Human Rights held an initial hearing Thursday morning on the Fair Chance for Housing Act.

Those in favor of the bill said landlords have been able to legally discriminate against people with criminal records, only adding to homelessness and crowding in shelters.

"Housing discrimination against people with convictions impacts hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and their families, there are 750,000 New Yorkers who have conviction histories," said Andre Ward with Fortune Society.

The legislation would not bar landlords from checking the New York Sex Offender registry, and it would not apply to two-family homes or homeowners renting out single rooms.

And it would not impact NYCHA complexes, because background checks there are required by federal law.

But even with those exceptions, some say the bill presents safety concerns.

"If this bill passes, we're actually bringing that crime into our homes, to live next door to us," said City Council member Inna Vernikov. "We may actually not be safe in our own apartments and homes. This is a very dangerous bill that would harm most law-abiding New Yorkers."

Thirty of the council's 51 members have sponsored the proposed legislation, which also has the support of Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

Mayor Eric Adams said he supports landlord background checks in concept.

"I'm always concerned about public safety, I want to be clear that if the bill reaches the exact desired results, no one should be denied housing based on their records," Adams said. "But I want to make sure residents in apartments, in buildings, in rentals, in small units, that they get the protection that they deserve. I'm a big supporter of having the lookback period, to allow a person to clean their record. There are some bills in Albany that are doing that now but I am just not a blanket support of it, I want to make sure that, particularly those who participated in violent crimes, we need to respect the safety of people who live in buildings. Sometimes we ignore that and I don't believe that."

A similar bill died last year but it appears it may have enough support to pass this year.

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