Cook County landlords to have limits imposed on criminal background checks of potential tenants
The Cook County Board recently passed ordinances that would limit the practice of property owners asking potential tenants about their criminal backgrounds.
Jane Garvey, the vice president of the Northeast Region of Illinois Rental Property Owners Association, said municipalities have forced landlords to screen tenants for the last 20 years.
"For the last 20-plus years, municipalities across Illinois have been enacting crime-free housing ordinances which force landlords to screen potential residents for criminal backgrounds, as well as have residents sign a mandated crime-free lease addendum as a condition for obtaining a license to rent their properties," Garvey said told Chicago City Wire. "Municipalities do not distinguish between an arrest and a conviction. They want safety for residents in their community."
Garvey said the Cook County Board and community organizations that pushed for the limits believe that landlords should have to ask to screen for criminal behavior. Garvey said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) adjusted its own guidelines that make it a judgment call for landlords.
"If any of us actually believe that the criminal justice system provided either justice or rehabilitation, some of these requirements might seem reasonable," Garvey said. "Police in crime-free housing communities have told us that criminals have no consequences in many instances, so making them move out of the community is often the only thing that works."
Garvey said landlords should not be caught in the middle of a nightmare battle between liberalism and safety.
"If we rent to people that injure our neighbors or other residents, or even threaten them, we are in for financial hurt," she said. "If we have to regularly interact with prospects who have historically been a danger to others, we are at increased risk for our own safety."
Garvey said that screening companies typically offer a package price for doing all of the screening at once. She said breaking out the criminal background as a separate piece is going to raise the cost of screening.
"Now that this ordinance was pushed through with little chance for discussion or feedback, we are facing more problems with the viability of the business of renting property in Cook County," Garvey said. "The disparity in laws at the various levels of government make the requirements very confusing."
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle called the ordinance balancing, according to The Daily Herald, citing the need for inclusion and safety.