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Proposed City Council Bill Would Prevent Criminal Background Checks

Although the City Council remained fairly quiet over the last few months with regard to anti-owner legislation, a new bill has been introduced that would allow prospective tenants with serious criminal convictions to avoid any vetting by the property owner.

Intro. 2047 by Council Member Stephen Levin would prohibit housing discrimination in rentals, leases, subleases, or occupancy agreements throughout the City on the basis of arrest or criminal record. Property owners and real estate brokers would be prohibited from inquiring about criminal record information at any stage in the rental process.

Soon after the legislation was introduced, RSA President Joseph Strasburg was quick to criticize the proposal, stating that:
“This bill would protect individuals who should be denied tenancy because of violent criminal pasts. It would be irresponsible of the City Council to pass this bill into law because it would come at the expense of the safety and well-being of existing tenants – especially families, children, and the elderly and vulnerable. It defies all logic and sensibility to prohibit landlords from utilizing the one variable that enables them to meet their legal obligation and moral responsibility of providing safe housing for their tenants – especially at a time when the pandemic and street violence makes the safety of one’s home even more precious.”

Mr. Strasburg went on to say that a criminal record, such as those for drug crimes involving the distribution and sale of illicit narcotics from previously rented apartments, a violent criminal history involving domestic violence, or someone with a history of sex offenses, is a relevant and significant consideration when a building owner is evaluating a prospective tenant.

The Council Committee on Civil and Human Rights and the Committee on General Welfare subsequently held a virtual hearing on the bill on September 15th where RSA and other representatives in the rental housing industry continued to oppose the bill. Dozens of other rental property owners, many of whom are RSA members, also testified during the Zoom hearing and criticized the legislation.

Overall, the bill has received thorough backlash and RSA will continue to fight against the legislation. It is unclear as to how the bill will progress through the Council in its current form. We will keep our members apprised of upcoming developments. 

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