Cook County, Illinois has passed a Just Housing Ordinance, restricting the use of criminal records for tenant screening. Following the anti-tenant screening trend, this new ordinance went into effect on December 21st, 2019 and will have a grace period for non-compliance enforcement until January 31st, 2020.
How to comply with the new ordinance:
- Review your applicant’s credit report and eviction history to verify they qualify with your rental criteria.
- Approve the applicant under the condition that there is nothing within their criminal history within the past 3 years (from date of conviction) that would violate your rental criteria.
- Review your applicant’s criminal history using only records showing the date of conviction within the past 3 years.
- If a criminal conviction appears within the three-year lookback, review using the individual assessment policy your company has in place
How do I rely on criminal records in my screening moving forward?
- Ask your tenant screening provider whether they automatically remove criminal records beyond 3 years that you can’t legally use in your decision.
- Educate everyone in your organization who uses criminal records to screen applicants about how to identify when the conviction was recorded to be sure they follow the new 3-year rule.
- Review your rental criteria for language regarding criminal records to ensure it’s compliant with the new ordinance.
So, what does this mean?
- If an applicant was convicted of a major crime, and served 4+ years in prison for it – you cannot use that criminal record in your decision because the conviction is older than 3 years.
- More emphasis is being placed on individual assessments of applicant criminal histories. To better comply with the ordinance, you should have a screening practice in place that takes several factors into account, such as the nature and severity of the offense, how recently it occurred, the amount of criminal offenses, and evidence of rehabilitation.
- Applicants currently registered as sex offenders who may violate your rental criteria may still be taken into consideration.
- If you deny an applicant based on their criminal history then you must also provide them with an opportunity to dispute the denial using evidence that can counter the information you received. Applicants have five (5) business days to provide evidence disputing the information used in your decision to deny them.
- The penalties for non-compliance with this ordinance go into effect on February 1st, 2020. The fines for violating the Just Housing Ordinance range between $100 – $500 for each offense, each day a violation continues.
Cook County’s ordinance marks one of the first laws in 2020 to restrict screening for rental housing – but it certainly won’t be the last. Laws proposing restrictions on criminal and eviction records were proposed in both 9 different states and in the U.S. Senate/Congress last year. State legislators like to borrow similar bills from other states, so make sure you stay up-to-date on tenant screening regulations proposed and passed!
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