Landlords can’t consider old convictions of tenants
by BRIAN NADIG
Landlords can no longer consider convictions older than 3 years to deny housing for prospective tenants in Cook County under the Just Housing Ordinance guidelines which went into effect on Jan. 31
"I voted against it. I voted with the concerns of my district," County Commissioner Bridget Degnen (D-12) said at the Feb. 13 meeting of the Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.
Degnen said that she unsuccessfully sought for changes which would have allowed the landlords of smaller rental buildings, including owner-occupied two-flats, to consider criminal convictions older than 3 years. She added that some neighborhoods in the district are saturated with two-flats.
Under the new law, criminal background checks can only be conducted after an applicant has been pre-qualified, which usually includes the passing of a credit check. Only after that point can a criminal background check be conducted, and no applicant can be denied for a conviction older than 3 years unless it requires sex offender registration or residency requirements, such as not living near a school.
In addition, if a housing provider were to deny an applicant for a conviction less than 3 years old, the landlord or leasing agent must conduct an individualized assessment, where any rehabilitation measures taken by the applicant are considered. In order to deny the applicant, the housing provider must determine that the applicant poses a "demonstrable risk," and applicants have to be given an opportunity to challenge the accuracy or relevance of any convictions which come up on the background check, a copy of which must be given to the prospective tenant.
The Cook County Commission on Human Rights investigates violations of the ordinance, and violators are subject to compensatory damages to the complainant and commission fines.
Degnen said that last April she voted in support of amendments to the housing ordinance that were designed to give those with criminal records better and fairer housing opportunities. Providing stable jobs and housing to those with a criminal past has shown to play a significant factor in turning their lives around, she said.
However, the county board did not approve the "interpretive rules" for the amendments until November, and Degnen said that the across-the-board blanket ban on considering convictions older than 3 years was not in keeping with the original intent of the law.
Degnen was one of four commissioners to vote against the rules. Other commissioners voting against it were Peter Silvestri (R-9), Sean Morrison (R-17) and John Daley (D-11).
The board voted 12-4.