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NYC Council revisits bill to ban most background checks—including criminal—by landlords

An anti-discrimination bill that would ban most New York City landlords from considering criminal history in assessing tenants was reintroduced in the City Council on Thursday after succumbing to resistance last year from property owners and some residents.

Supporters of the bill view the legislation as an important step toward helping the formerly incarcerated secure homes as the city faces a raging housing crisis. Four borough presidents and a majority of the members of the Council are behind the bill, said Majority Leader Keith Powers (D-Manhattan), who introduced the bill.

The bill, the Fair Chance for Housing Act, would allow landlords to consider the criminal history of potential tenants who are listed on the sex offender registry, but otherwise limit the use of background checks, according to Powers’ office.

“Discriminating against our fellow New Yorkers for past convictions — after they serve their time — is a lifelong, unfair punishment,” Powers, a Manhattan Democrat, said in a rally at City Hall. “Housing is a fundamental right.”

An estimated one in 10 adult New Yorkers have a conviction history. Powers added that helping the formerly convicted find housing is a broader safety issue.

“We’re saying public safety matters, homes matter,” he said. “The Fair Chance for Housing Act is going to put public safety back on the map.”

But a similar push wilted last year, even after its success seemed secured by 27 Council sponsors — making up more than half the body — and the backing of former Mayor Bill de Blasio.

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Opposition from landlords and residents proved powerful in preventing Council passage.

Frank Ricci, the executive vice president of the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents property owners, said his organization had publicized the issue, and would again.

“Last year, it was the residents and buildings that stopped it,” Ricci said. “That came from the ground up.”

Ricci acknowledged that many formerly incarcerated may be great tenants, but argued property owners should be able to consider a raft of considerations to protect the safety of their buildings.

“The way the legislation is right now, I think it’s putting criminal privilege over tenant safety,” Ricci added.

And Joseph Strasburg, the Rent Stabilization Association’s president, said in a statement that “it defies all logic to prohibit building owners from utilizing criminal background checks.”

But Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat, said that the bill would simply secure “a fair chance” for the formerly incarcerated.

“You cannot ask returning residents to be their best selves, and then not allow them to get a job and a place to live,” Williams said at the rally. “We’re just saying: Please, give them a chance, so we can all be safe.”

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Mayor Adams has offered his support for the legislation. Enhancing protections for New Yorkers with criminal records is a plank in his housing blueprint.

A spokesman for the mayor, Charles Lutvak, said in a statement: “We look forward to reviewing the details of the introduced legislation, and we will work closely with our partners in the City Council to ensure it accomplishes that goal.”

Still, it was not immediately clear how likely the bill was to pass even in the progressive City Council, nor was it certain that the city would be well-equipped to enforce the bill if it became law.

But its passage would come as a watershed moment for some 750,000 New York City residents with histories of convictions.

New Jersey landlords are already barred from considering criminal histories when assessing tenants. Seattle and San Francisco have similar provisions.

“If we want safe communities, we have to house every single New Yorker,” said Councilwoman Tiffany Cabán, a Queens Democrat. “Without any exceptions.”

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