Jan 9, 2024
New York City’s city council has passed the Fair Chance for Housing Act. This bill will determine how real estate brokers, landlords, and others can consider the past convictions of individuals applying for housing.
However, it does not limit a business’s ability to use background checks to the extent that the previously debated version did. The Fair Chance for Housing Act passed in a vote of 39 to eight. It now awaits the governor’s signature. If signed, it will take effect in 2025.
The Process for Passing
The bill’s sponsor explained that the council held several conversations about affordable housing. They discussed the necessity of more affordable housing so people are not displaced. According to the sponsor, they must focus on “making it easier for people to get into housing.” He also added how this is particularly true of people with past convictions trying to rehabilitate.
There were attempts in the past to pass similar bills. Until now, no version has acquired enough support to pass. Last year’s bill would have banned criminal background checks throughout the screening process, only allowing checks of the sex offender registry. However, there was an exemption for two-family owner-occupied homes.
This exemption is in the Fair Chance for Housing Act that passed. This version also allows sellers, landlords, and brokers to consider the recent criminal history of applicants. For example, they may review misdemeanors in the past three years and felonies in the past five years when deciding to approve or disapprove applications.
The look-back window starts from the applicant’s release from incarceration or sentencing if not incarcerated. One lawmaker said the look-back period allows applicants to show they have not re-offended. Additionally, the lawmaker expressed that getting housing makes them even less likely to re-offend.
Concerns About the Act
Some real estate groups voiced several concerns about the original bill. For example, they do not believe contact with the criminal justice system should be the sole reason for denied housing. However, they feel it is irresponsible to look past recent convictions if they involve harmful or violent conduct. They claimed this would be a disservice to current tenants.
Passing the Fair Chance for Housing Act addresses this concern. It also requires landlords to notify applicants of their intention to conduct a background check. Landlords who reject applicants due to past convictions must allow them time to correct any errors in the report. Landlords must also explain to the applicant how their “reviewable criminal history affected a legitimate business interest.”
As a reminder, the Fair Chance for Housing Act still allows landlords to conduct background checks. As such, affected landlords should prepare by reviewing the law’s provisions to ensure compliance. They can also work with a trustworthy background screening company to ensure compliance. The right provider will deliver accurate, timely reports to ensure landlords make informed decisions.