The Dangerous Impact of Intro 2047 on the Welfare Of Our Community and the Real Estate Industry

The Dangerous Impact of Intro 2047 on the Welfare Of Our Community and the Real Estate Industry
Eliezer “Eli” Rodriguez

The year 2019 was a tough year for the real estate industry. Legislation was proposed to limit the fee earned by a real estate licensee to one month’s rent. Fortunately, the bill lost traction for the time being. In June of 2019, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (hereafter “TPA”). As you may remember, TPA caught the real estate industry by surprise as key Realtor organizations were not included in the conversation.

In short, TPA eliminated some provisions that benefited property owners, while other provisions restricted their ability from renovating and maintaining their properties and from providing their tenants with quality service. In August 2020, the Committee on Civil and Human Rights of The New York City Council proposed Intro 2047-2020 (hereafter “Intro 2047”). This bill is extremely concerning and if it passes, among other things, it may impact the health and welfare of New York City tenants.

Intro 2047 intends to amend the Administrative Code of the City of New York to prohibit landlords/owners/property managers from doing a criminal background check on prospective tenants in a rental, lease, sublease or occupancy agreement at any state in the process. The rationale for this amendment is that it will prohibit housing discrimination based on an arrest or a criminal record. The prime sponsor of the bill is Councilman Stephen T. Levin.

The New York State Association of Realtors, the Rent Stabilization Association, the Real Estate Board of New York and the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condos oppose this legislation. If the bill passes, it will become effective 120 days after it becomes law.

Fairness is on the side of giving people with criminal history a second chance or more chances to become productive members of the community. While this proposed legislation might be well-intended, the result may have a negative effect on NYC tenants and owners. Most jurisdictions require those convicted of sex offenses to register as a sex offender precisely because sex offenders pose a risk to others. Additional risks are posed by arsonists, murderers, and rapists. Landlords have obligations to their tenants to take reasonable steps to provide them with safe living environments. Realizing the prior criminal conduct of potential tenants is a reasonable step. Co-op boards also want to know the candidate understands the responsibilities associated with living in a co-op.

Interestingly enough, the drafter of Intro 2047 noted the bill will not apply to “rental of a room or rooms in a housing accommodation where the owner resides.” This proves the drafters and sponsors of Intro 2047 understand the resident owner of a house or small multiple dwelling would like to be able to consider criminal history in deciding whether to rent a room or rooms. Well, so do all the owners who live together in housing cooperatives and condominiums.

We urge the City Council to look at Chicago, Detroit, and other similarly progressive jurisdictions, which allow for screening for certain types of convictions as part of the application process and the remedies they have to address potential acts of discrimination. The City Council should strongly look to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and other federal laws that prohibit people convicted of certain violent crimes from residing in federally-funded public housing. NYCHA uses broad discretion to deem residents as “dangerous,” leading to their eviction and separation from their families through a policy called “permanent exclusion.”

The bill does not address an owner’s potential liability arising from renting to someone with a serious criminal record. Owners have a legal obligation to their existing tenants’ safety. The background check is a necessary tool owners and managers need to assess applications. Perhaps what is needed is participatory legislation where a group of people, representing all relevant sectors, sit down with the members of the City Council to carve out a process to implement a system that enables someone with a criminal record to demonstrate a history of good behavior and/or limiting the rule to certain types of offenses, history/frequency, and timeline. We can find a common ground…if we want to.

It’s my hope the City Council will seek to find a better balance between the rights of persons with a criminal history and a property owners’ ability to provide safe housing to tenants. For the reasons mentioned, I encourage the real estate trade in the five boroughs to form a city-wide alliance to provide the necessary resources to demonstrate our opposition to Intro 2047. As of Sept. 15, 2020, the bill’s status is “Laid Over by Committee.” It’s time for the Realtor world to speak with a louder voice. A voice loud enough where the real estate industry is invited to the conversation and has a seat at the table before a bill is proposed. We can bring our own chair if one is not available.

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