Near the end of May, Cook County in Illinois approved a new change to how and when landlords are allowed to access criminal records while running tenant screening. While landlords are still allowed to inquire about a potential tenant’s criminal history, they are only able to do it as a second step to the screening process. The landlord will have to run a preliminary screening first, which consists of income verification and credit check. Once the landlord has gone through the initial screening and has a list of potential tenants, they can then choose to run the background check with the criminal history report.
Why The Change?
The purpose behind this change appears to be preventing and potentially identifying discrimination by keeping income and credit considerations separate from criminal history. A tenant may fail to pass the initial screening, and their reason for being denied would have nothing to do with criminal behavior. According to one article, as many as one-third of Americans have a criminal record, and some landlords may blanket discriminate against them whether or not the crime was something that should disqualify them as a tenant.
Statistically, many people with criminal records are recidivists – repeat offenders. This new change will grant people who have criminal records a second chance and the equal opportunity for housing and employment, which in turn may prevent them from returning to criminal activity. This also appears to be part of a larger trend across the country to address high levels of recidivism and discrimination, as several other cities have started implementing changes to how landlords are allowed to use criminal records. In some California cities, for example, an algorithm has been developed to identify and expunge criminal records that are related to specific crimes, such those around cannabis. North Carolina leaders are also considering legislation that would significantly expand the number of people who are eligible to clear their criminal records.
These changes may not currently affect you, but they’re one reason why it’s essential to stay on top of your state and local laws. It’s conceivable that the trend of moving towards removing criminal records or putting restrictions on a landlord’s ability to screen their tenants based on criminal history will become more common as time goes on.
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