Clarity sought on rule limiting consideration of criminal backgrounds in Cook County rentals
An amendment to the Cook County housing ordinance which places restrictions on how property owners can consider potential tenants’ criminal backgrounds has raised questions real estate advocates about how the policy will be implemented.
The Cook County Board late last month passed a measure, called the Just Housing Amendment, which requires property owners to first consider factors other than criminal history during a rental application process. Only after this review can an assessment of the applicant’s criminal history be evaluated.
The amendment also bars property owners from considering arrests or expunged records, limiting review only to convictions.
The amendment passed by a 15-2 margin on April 25. It opens a debate about how to balance a necessary path back for those convicted of crimes, yet provide protections for property owners and others who rent from them.
The amendment will go into effect in six months, and the county’s Human Relations Committee is working on the rules under which the ordinance will be administered.
It’s the latest effort by the county board to offer protections to would-be renters. In 2013, the board also protected source of income in the county, which struck at discrimination against those who had government housing vouchers.
The Just Housing amendment has received criticism in that it is too vague on how property owners are supposed to navigate the rules.
Illinois REALTORS®, which represents many property owners, has noted that as passed the amendment offers little guidance on how a landlord would individually consider cases. That raises questions about potential liability, even if the property owner is trying to make a good-faith effort to follow the rules.
Also of concern is how long the process to evaluate a person with a criminal record might take. Because property managers need to keep vacancies to a minimum, there is concern that a lengthy process — including appeals — would make it harder to operate a business that is already beset with rising tax and utility costs.
The Chicago Sun-Times noted in an editorial that the measure opens the way for more bureaucracy and confusion in the rental process. It also noted that the amendment might have an opposite of the intended effect of easing housing barriers for lower-income residents.
“Other landlords might view the county’s new rules as one more reason to get out of the affordable housing business altogether, which could actually lead in time to less available housing for ex-offenders,” the editorial states.