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New “Just Housing Ordinance” Changes Tenant Screening Procedures in Cook County

12/10/2019
David H. Sachs - a man in a business suit, smiling at the camera
David H. Sachs
Chair | Real Estate Group
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Ordinance Prohibits Initial Inquiry of Tenant Criminal History

On April 25, 2019, Cook County Commissioners approved an amendment to the Cook County Code, known as the “Just Housing Ordinance," that prohibits the denial of a tenant’s application or continuing occupancy of residential real property based on criminal convictions. Specifically, landlords may no longer inquire about, consider, or require disclosure of a potential tenant’s criminal history on an initial application.

The Interpretive Rules to the Ordinance passed on November 21, 2019 provide a two-step tenant screening process. First, a landlord must pre-qualify an applicant without requiring disclosure of criminal background. Before accepting an application fee, a landlord must disclose to the applicant the tenant selection criteria, the applicant’s right to dispute conviction history inaccuracies, and a copy of the Commission’s procedural rules. Second, after notifying the applicant of pre-qualification, a landlord may conduct a criminal background check of the applicant. However, a landlord may only evaluate an applicant's criminal conviction history from the previous three years in making a determination. Arrest records, charges, citations and sealed or expunged records cannot be considered.

If a landlord denies admission on the basis of an applicant's criminal conviction history, then the Ordinance provides an applicant with an opportunity to dispute. An applicant will have five days to produce evidence that disputes the accuracy or relevance of the information disclosed in the criminal background check. A landlord must then conduct an “individualized assessment” by considering relevant factors from the previous three years to determine whether the applicant poses a demonstrable risk to the personal safety or property of others. If a demonstrable risk exists, then the landlord may deny the application.

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What You Need to Know

  • The Ordinance will be effective on December 31, 2019
  • It is a violation of the ordinance for landlords to include a question on an application as to whether the applicant had been convicted of a crime
  • Landlords may approve another pre-qualified individual’s application during the pendency of a criminal conviction dispute process
  • The Ordinance does not apply in cases of current sex offenders

If you have questions regarding the new Ordinance, please contact a member of our Real Estate Team.

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