BY GEOFFREY MAZEL, ESQ.
Leaders in the co-op community are greatly concerned with the momentum that Intro 2047 is receiving in the City Council. This bill has 26 sponsors, most of whom are term-limited out of office at the end of the year and therefore will not be in office when the effects of legislation are felt.
The proposed legislation would prohibit housing discrimination in rentals, leases, subleases, or occupancy agreements in New York City on the basis of arrest or criminal record. Landlords, including co-op boards and real estate brokers, would be prohibited from inquiring about criminal record information at any stage in the process for applicants looking to purchase or rent in the co-op.
If passed, co-op boards would have no way of knowing if any proposed applicants have been convicted of a serious crime that would otherwise impact their decision-making process. Similar bills were passed in Seattle, Washington, and St. Paul, Minnesota, and are subject to judicial challenge. It is also very likely that if Intro 2047 was passed in New York City, it would be subject to judicial challenge by the many stakeholders who oppose the broad legislation.
The use of the criminal background check is an essential tool used by co-op boards to ensure a safe and harmonious community. Most boards are simply looking to make sure that anyone entering their co-op is a fit resident and that there is nothing in their past that would render them unfit.
The current Intro 2047 provides no protection whatsoever to co-op boards and their residents. It does not even allow them to see if a person committed a particularly heinous crime or is a sex offender. In addition, the law provides no protections to the co-op in the event a shareholder with a criminal history that was not reviewed commits a crime while residing in the co-op.
Other similarly drafted laws in other states do contain “hold harmless” language for the co-op board in the event there is an incident involving a shareholder who was not vetted and has a criminal past.
The backbone of the strong co-op community in New York City has been the ability of boards to vet incoming shareholders to make sure they will make good neighbors. This proposed legislation clearly undercuts this ability and may serve to weaken a very precious housing sector in this area. Clearly, the co-op Board and its residents are in a no-win situation with regard to this legislation.