NYC landlords — and residents — deserve background checks for would-be tenants


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There is a growing trend of treating criminals as a new protected class. Common-sense New Yorkers need to reject this idea before it’s too late.

At a City Council Hearing on Intro 0632, which would prohibit background checks by landlords on potential tenants, advocates and my fellow council members cast criminals — who’ve been convicted by a jury of their peers and spent time in prison — as victims. And they used the language of the civil rights movement to describe the challenge ex-cons have in finding an apartment in New York City.

If this city is to come back from rising crime, inflation and a deteriorating quality of life, we need to snap back to reality.

In the overwhelming majority of cases, an individual went to prison because he or she chose wrong over right. Too many council members and advocates have bought into the notion that “systematic racism” — or whatever term people use for “society” — causes crime and high incarceration rates. False.

The council members pushing for the bill paint those previously convicted for crimes as victims.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Committing a crime and having a criminal history is a result of bad choices. We can discuss the corrosive effects of broken families, poverty and substance abuse, but if someone has his mental faculties and commits a crime, he is ultimately responsible for the consequences.   

This argument, that criminals are victims, is part of a broader effort to distort reality, which often starts with changing the meaning of words. Progressives can no longer bring themselves to say “ex-con.” Even “ex-offender” is too harsh. Now the correct terminology is “justice-involved.”

Following this twisted logic, running a background check as part of an assessment of who will live on your property is no longer prudent, it’s discrimination — a word typically reserved for racists and bigots. The far left now frames most arguments in moral absolutist terms, leaving no room for compromise. You either support its policies, or you support discrimination (and whichever “ism” is in vogue).

Even if you believe crime has some root cause that has nothing to do with individual choice, Intro 0632 is still a bad bill. The law, as written, can’t be enforced and will allow for frivolous lawsuits against landlords.

JoAnn Kamuf Ward, deputy commissioner for policy and external affairs at the Commission on Human Rights, testified that it’s not possible to say definitively if someone did not get an apartment due to a felonious background. Evidence is based on people’s “feelings,” “anecdotes” and “studies” (from advocates) about searching for an apartment in New York City.

Living room in a modern apartment.
Reportedly, it’s not possible to say definitively if someone did not get an apartment due to a felonious background.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you can’t prove landlords are using background checks to deny tenants housing even when it’s legal to do so, how does the city expect to prove this is happening when it’s illegal?

Indeed: Since credit checks would still be allowed, it’s not difficult to imagine this bill passing and landlords using a credit check and their own judgment to become more selective, not less, in who they rent to. The council thus might inadvertently incentivize landlords to fall back on their preconceived biases and prejudices as a means of judgment, since we’re removing an objective tool as a means of assessment. Bills like Intro 0632, however well-intentioned, can have the unintended consequence of harming innocent New Yorkers.

It is important that the city has a process by which individuals transitioning out of prison can be reintegrated into society. To reduce recidivism, we need job-placement programs, a homeless shelter system that works and mental-health services that provide long-term psychiatric care to those in need.

To that end, my bill, Intro 0793, would require city agencies and hospitals to report the number of Assisted Outpatient Treatment referrals and petitions submitted by city agencies and hospitals to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. As I’ve written before, we must use Kendra’s Law more as a means of helping the mentally ill who have committed crimes.

But we can’t abandon the reality that many dangerous people live in our city. It’s not the government’s prerogative to force law-abiding landlords to give those dangerous people a place to live.

For many New Yorkers, abandoning background checks will mean sharing a hallway with people like Douglas Powell, a convicted rapist who spewed racist hatred to Asian New Yorkers while representing VOCAL-NY at a December hearing.

And before you say this bill doesn’t apply to sex offenders, let me be the first to predict that as soon as it is passed, a new bill will be introduced that will further restrict what landlords can and can’t do when screening applicants.

If council members really believe what they say, let them build more homeless shelters and low-income housing in their districts. Leave law-abiding citizens alone.

Robert Holden is a Democratic member of the City Council, representing Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village and Ridgewood in Queens.

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