How the Fair Chance for Housing Act Could Help You

Jan 05, 2024

The New York City Council has passed the Fair Chance for Housing Act. It could help many individuals with a criminal record obtain better housing opportunities. After passing a vote of 39 to 8, the bill will take effect in 2025 if the mayor signs it. 

This bill does not limit how landlords and other entities can use background checks to the extent that the previously debated version did. However, it will protect against discrimination toward those with a criminal record. It also allows landlords to conduct background checks for misdemeanors within a three-year look-back window and felonies for five years. 

This look-back window would start after release from incarceration. The window also applies to those not incarcerated in their sentencing. One lawmaker stated that this period allows people to show they have put their past behind them. People who do not reoffend during this time are also said to be less likely to reoffend. 

There is an exception to the law for two-family owner-occupied homes. A covered entity can advertise or make a statement, communication, or application as required by state, federal, or local law as long as the entity includes a citation for the law, regulation, or rule requiring it. Covered entities can also conduct background checks to deny someone housing accommodation if required by state, local, or federal law. Additionally, a covered entity can take adverse action against an individual or occupant for reasons other than a criminal history.

Covered entities conducting a background check of someone trying to buy, rent, or lease a housing accommodation must take the following steps:

  • “(A) In the case of a transaction involving the purchase of housing or shares in housing, the seller has accepted an offer and agreed in writing that the seller will not revoke the acceptance or change the conditions of the deal on the basis of the buyer’s criminal history except as permitted by this paragraph;
  • (B) In the case of any other transaction involving lease or rental, the covered entity has provided to such individual a rental or lease agreement that commits the housing accommodation to the applicant, which may only be revoked based on a criminal background check conducted in accordance with the fair chance housing process set forth in subparagraph (5), or upon an unrelated material omission, misrepresentation, or change in the qualifications for tenancy that was not known at the time of the conditional offer;
  • (C) In all such cases, has provided such individual notice of such criminal background check and a written copy of the city’s fair chance housing notice summarizing the rights in this paragraph, which shall be created and made publicly available by the commission.”

As such, landlords or similar entities must accept your offer to buy, lease, or rent before conducting a background check. They must then comply with this new law when considering the relevance of any criminal history. Covered entities that run a background check may decide to take adverse action. In such cases, they must provide the required notices and five business days to respond.

Before applying for housing, consider running a self-check to ensure your background is accurate. Click here to run a self background check