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Landlords rail over push to ban criminal background checks on tenants

The head of New York’s largest organization of apartment building owners has slammed the City Council for trying to push through legislation that would prohibit landlords from performing criminal background checks on prospective renters.

Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, called the term-limited politicians “reckless and irresponsible” for moving to adopt Intro. 2047 before they leave office.

JOE STRASBURG

“The lawlessness and violence plaguing our streets, subways, parks and playgrounds are bad enough, but a cast of lame duck politicians passing and enacting a law that would endanger the constituents they will soon no longer represent is reckless and irresponsible,” Strasburg said.

When initially proposed last year, Intro. 2047 would have prevented consideration of all criminal history when evaluating a prospective tenant. The new version of the bill allows consideration of only sexual crimes against children.

“Although the proposed amendment to this bill would allow owners to check if a prospective tenant was a suspected pedophile, all other violent criminal activity would get a free pass,” said Strasburg. “So don’t blame the landlord when drug dealers, spousal abusers, other violent criminals, and arsonists move into the apartment next door or down the hall.

“This bill would have an immediate and severe negative impact on the safety of millions of New Yorkers.”

Proponents say the amendment will give people with criminal conviction histories a fair chance at finding housing.

JOANNE PAGE

In a Daily News op-ed, Fortune Society president JoAnne Page said, “More than half of those recently released from state prison to New York City are being funneled directly into a maze of homeless shelters with almost no support or services. It is not surprising that they are then much more likely to reoffend, get arrested again and continue the cycle of incarceration and homelessness while worsening the conditions of community safety.

“Too often the sole criteria used by landlords in assessing a person’s eligibility for an apartment is a criminal record. Once that criminal history pops up, it’s game over. The landlord never considers the totality of the applicants: who they are today; the hard work they’ve done to change lives; their post-incarceration work history. Nothing.”

Mitch Schwartz, First Deputy Press Secretary for Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “Stable housing reduces recidivism. Discriminatory housing practices make it worse. Keeping our city safe means changing the way we think about housing equity – not repeating the same mistakes that leave people behind, even long after they’ve left the justice system.”

The Fortune Society owns and operates the Castle Gardens apartment community in West Harlem (pictured top) with 114 apartments for rent-paying, formerly homeless, justice-involved individuals and their families.  Page said, “Our experience running Castle Gardens proves that a tenant’s prior arrests or criminal convictions do not negatively impact their likelihood to pay rent or ability be a good neighbor or decrease the safety of the building or the community at large.

“The Fortune Society urgently requests that City Council members take action to stop the perpetual cycle of landlord discrimination of people with conviction histories in housing.” wrote Page.

However, the RSA has lambasted outgoing Council members they claim are rushing to pass the legislation in the waning days of their terms.

“There would be no consequences or accountability for them, but for those who will still be sitting in the City Council chamber come Jan. 1 – especially those with aspirations of leading this legislative body – they need to cast a vote for common sense and reject this proposed bill for the sake of protecting the safety and well-being of families, children, and the elderly and vulnerable,” said Strasburg.

The apartment leader said that a criminal record is not in itself  a bar to renting an apartment, but rather is “appropriate and relevant information that a building owner or manager needs to evaluate a prospective tenant.”

“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 existing tenants,” he added.

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