Chicago landlords have a new tenant screening law to abide by called the Just Housing Amendment. It is now part of the Cook County “Human Rights Ordinance” to help people with a criminal record get housing. Landlords need to know about the required screening process to avoid big fines. There’s also a similar ordinance that was just approved in Oakland, California.
The Chicago ordinance was approved in April of last year and went into effect on January 1st. Enforcement begins February 1st. The amendment was passed to prohibit housing discrimination against individuals who have a criminal past or a brush with the law that isn’t serious enough or recent enough to deny them housing. It also provides strict guidelines as to how landlords must assess an individual’s criminal history before they are denied housing.
This is important for Chicago landlords to know. The fines can be steep. The county website says the penalties may include damages, attorney fees, and fines. According to a local property management blog by GC Realty, the fines range from $100 to $500 a day for each offense. So it’s good to know what you can and can’t do when you are screening tenants.
Two-Step Screening Process
This new law requires a two-step process for screening. But first, I should mention that the application cannot include a checkbox asking whether the applicant has a criminal background. It can only facilitate the prequalification of a tenant based on income, rental history, credit score, pets, and things like that. Once the first step is finished, the housing provider can deny the application based on that information or “pre-qualify” an applicant and do a criminal background check as “step two” of the process.
Any convictions that are more than three years old are not counted against the individual. If there are convictions within the last three years, the housing provider must then do an individual assessment on that person. The individual assessment is a questionnaire that takes many factors into consideration. Here’s a sample of the kinds of things that must be considered, from the government website:
- The nature and severity of the criminal offense and how recently it occurred.
- The nature of the sentencing.
- The number of criminal convictions in the past three years.
- The length of time that has passed since the applicant’s most recent convictions.
- The age of the individual at the time the criminal offense occurred.
- Evidence of rehabilitation.
- The individual history as a tenant before and/or after the conviction.
- Whether the criminal conviction was related to the applicant’s disability.
And that’s reportedly not a complete list. Arrests don’t count — only convictions within the past three years. And then an individualized assessment needs to be done. Juveniles with a recent criminal record are also given a pass. (1)
There are a few exceptions to the Just Housing Amendment. A housing provider can deny applicants who are current registered sex offenders or child sex offenders with restrictions on where they live. But there are strict rules about mentioning criminal behavior in your ads. The website says it’s okay to say, “No registered sex offenders or persons under a current child sex offender residency restriction.” But, you cannot say, “no sex offenders” or “no felons” or “no convicted drug dealers” or “no criminal history” or “no arrest history.” All those could get you in trouble.
There are other rules to be aware of. If two people apply for the same unit on the same day and they both pre-qualify but one has a criminal record. The law says, the housing provider must still perform the individual assessment before a decision is made.
Stricter Ordinance in Oakland
In Oakland, California, the city council just approved a similar ordinance, although it’s more of a blanket ban on the use of any kind of criminal record — whether it’s earlier than the last three years or otherwise. Landlords cannot ask if an applicant has a criminal history and cannot disqualify anyone because of a record of arrests or convictions. The only thing they may be able to consider is whether a person is a registered sex offender. It’s called the “Fair Chance Housing Ordinance” and is scheduled for a second reading by the City Council on February 4th. Landlords face fines as high as $1,000 for each violation. Seattle also has a similar ordinance. San Francisco does too but only for affordable housing. (2)