NYC bill would prohibit landlords from doing background checks on new tenants

A bill working its way through New York City Council would ban private landlords from doing background checks on prospective tenants.

Landlords in New York City oppose the bill.  They say their tenants don't want to share buildings with former criminals.

But at least 30 of the council’s 51 members have reportedly agreed to back the "Fair Chance for Housing Act." The council’s Committee on Civil Rights will hold a public hearing on Dec. 8.  Mayor Eric Adams has also shown support for the idea.

Councilwoman Inna Vernikov (R-Brooklyn) is one in the minority that is against dropping background checks.

She says if the bill passes it will hurt the safety of law-abiding tenants who could end up living next door to a killer.

"We can actually have a murderer and someone in current criminal proceedings moving in next door and nobody will know about it," Vernikov says.  "The landlord won't know about it. The tenant won't know about it."

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Vernikov says stripping landlords of the ability to determine whether they may be allowing a murderer onto their property is harmful.

"People already don't feel safe in our city and they're going to feel even more unsafe," Vernikov says.

Stanley Richards, the Deputy CEO of the Fortune Society, supports dropping criminal background checks.

He says that housing discrimination has a huge impact on New York City because of the large number of people, particularly people of color, who have past convictions.

"We have over 750,000 people in New York City with criminal convictions...11 percent of our population," Richards says. "There is no evidence that shows a criminal conviction determines whether someone will pay their rent, someone will be a good neighbor, and whether a community will be safe."

He claims background checks "demonize" people with criminal records.

"When do we stop getting judged by the worst moment in our lives?" Richard asks.

Vernikov disagrees that is what the proposal is about.

"This bill is not about giving second chances.  It's about completely eliminating the landlords, the property owners' rights to even check what kind of criminal background this person has," Vernikov says.