As a landlord, you want to know that the people you rent your apartments to will look after them well. You want to be sure they won’t use them to conduct criminal activity such as drug dealing or prostitution.
You also want to know that a tenant will not threaten other tenants’ safety and security.
Hence, like many landlords, you may conduct background checks on applicants. If you spot that a potential tenant has a criminal record, you might consider turning them down. You probably can, but you must be careful and consider if you need to.
What is the Fair Chance for Housing Act?
In December 2020, New York legislators voted against the proposed Fair Chance for Housing Act. It would have made it illegal for landlords to conduct criminal background checks in most cases. Despite its failure to pass, there are suggestions that the Mayor intends to pursue this agenda.
One of the reasons those in favor of banning background checks give is that it unfairly targets Black and Brown people as they make up around 80% of New Yorkers with criminal convictions.
If you turn someone down for a criminal record that does not affect the safety of your property or other tenants, they might feel you are doing so because of their skin color. For the present, you are allowed to check for criminal records. Still, it would be wise to look at the nature of the offense and when it occurred and only consider it if relevant to their current suitability as a tenant.
If you end up accused of housing discrimination, seek legal help to explain the full range of factors that contributed to your decision to reject someone.