Legal support service president slams Cook County Board's approval of Just Housing Amendment
The Cook County Board of Commissioner's decision last month to limit what property owners can ask potential tenants about their criminal histories was shortsighted and will have long-reaching effects, according to the president of a Chicago legal support services firm.
Commissioners did not have enough information to be making such a decision, Verella Osborne, president of Legal Document Management, Inc., told Chicago City Wire.
"The Board members obviously did absolutely no research before enacting a law that will have devastating effects on landlords and which will place property owners in a position of serious financial liability and other tenants at risk," she said. "The current Chicago ordinance holds property owners legally liable for any criminal activity which occurs 'on or adjacent to' their property. If the crime is narcotics, the landlord can lose his building. Current state law also holds property owners liable for criminal activity in their property. Almost every single municipality in Cook County requires a crime-free addendum to be provided to each tenant, and yet Cook County wants landlords to not research criminal histories of applicants?"
The board's decision also leaves property owners with a number of questions, Osborne said.
"They are to accept an applicant and then find out he's a sex offender, or has a history of drug dealing?" she asked. "Is the landlord to risk not only himself but the safety of his tenants because Cook County Board members can't see the consequences of their actions, or don't care?"
On April 23, the board voted 15 to 2 to approve the Just Housing Amendment to the county's housing discrimination ordinance that opponents say will create confusion and deter new local multifamily dwelling investment in the county.
"Safe and affordable housing is a human right," Commissioner Kevin Morrison, who co-sponsored the ordinance, said in a statement following the vote. "This passage of the Just Housing Amendment is a clear signal that Cook County believes in fair housing for all and will support those with past convictions who are seeking rehabilitation."
The board’s two Republican commissioners, Pete Silvestri and Sean Morrison, were the only votes against the amendment. The disconnect in the board's vote seems to be equating committing a crime with housing discrimination, Osborne said.
"The board's motivation for this action is that ex-offenders – and current offenders – are part of the 'affordable housing' problem and have difficulty renting because of their criminal history. Yes, that's a consequence of committing a crime," she said. "I suggest they move to another city and state that doesn't hold landlords civilly liable for their crimes – or revoke the current Chicago and Illinois laws and prohibit every municipality in Illinois from requiring a crime-free addendum, which is as useful a suggestion as the board's actions."