On April 21, 2019, the Cook County Board proposed an amendment to the fair housing portion of the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance. They voted on and passed the measure on April 25, 2019. That’s not a typo. They proposed it on a Sunday and passed it by Thursday. That sure seems like shady dealing. Dubbed the “Just Housing Ordinance” (do justice-y laws usually need to get rushed through a legislative body without comment or consideration?), the law is to take effect on October 25, 2019. What is the purpose of the ordinance?
The ordinance (sponsored by Cook County Commissioners Brandon Johnson and Larry Suffredin) provides that landlords are PROHIBITED from obtaining ANY criminal background information from a prospective tenant until the landlord first CONDITIONALLY APPROVES the tenant’s application. Basically, a landlord will not be allowed to run criminal background and credit checks at the same time. instead, a landlord must conditionally approve the tenant and only after this can the landlord run a criminal background check.
Cook County’s website describes the Just Housing Ordinance: “On April 25, 2019, the Cook County Board of Commissioners passed an amendment (Ord. No. 19-2394) to § 42-38 of the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance (“Ordinance”) to 1) prohibit housing discrimination based on individual’s covered criminal history and 2) require housing providers to perform an individualized assessment of an otherwise qualified individual’s criminal conviction history prior to denying them housing.” The text of the ordinance can be found here.
Landlords need to be aware that this law applies to all of COOK COUNTY. This is not just a Chicago law. Proponents say that it merely codifies the requirements of the HUD memorandum on the use of criminal background checks in housing. The added requirement of conditional approval is the one that is going to be onerous. Proponents allege that landlords are using other parts of a prospective tenant’s rental application to deny tenants who are really being denied based upon their criminal background. To stop that alleged practice, landlords will be required to give the green light to a tenant before ordering a criminal background check. They say that this will help to stop recidivism, among other things.
Interestingly, no one gave any consideration to the fact that most tenant screening services usually do a past eviction, credit check, and criminal background check at the same time. Many landlords use “aggregator” screening companies that give a recommendation based on all three reports without providing the actual report to the landlord. Obviously, those are out and can’t be used after the law goes into effect. Also, just like with the HUD guidelines, a landlord needs to make a case-by-case review of a prospective tenant’s criminal background to see if the tenant meets the new screening criteria. Stay tuned as the County is going to be working on rules for the interpretation and implementation of this law.