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Landlords Have Doubts About Cook County Law Intended To Help Ex-Offenders Find Housing

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A new Cook County law is intended to help ex-offenders find housing, but landlords worry it will make it harder to find good tenants.

As CBS 2's Jim Williams reported Wednesday, Cook County commissioners are tweaking the measure aimed at helping those who have paid their debt to society. The commissioners are seeking to find the balance between safety and second chances.

Owen Pittman is not a supporter of the new law. He said he has already had it with the tenants who has rented his home in Englewood.

"I want to get out," he said.

Pittman said one woman stopped paying her rent – and it took him a year to evict her.

"You've got a mortgage – you've got a water bill," he said. "I've got to pay that."

Pittman, who's owned dozens of rental properties in Chicago sees another source of frustration in the new law passed by the Cook County Board. The law limits inquiries into a potential tenant's criminal history.

"From beginning to end, I don't think they got the right input from the property owners – the landlord," he said.

The law is a criminal justice reform measure. On Wednesday, Cook County commissioners heard from ex-offenders who have struggled to find housing.

"I've been homeless for four years," one ex-offender said. "Twelve times I applied for an apartment - 12 times I was denied because of my background."

Under the law, landlords can do a criminal background check only after a tenant is first shown to be credit-worthy.

"Some people believe that they're being forced to rent to individuals – and that's not what this ordinance does," said Commissioner Brandon Johnson (D-1st).

Johnson, the law's chief sponsor, says a landlord can reject an ex-offender seeking housing – but only after talking to that person.

"To get a better understanding of what may have happened 25 years ago, and it's at that point in which a landlord can make the decision on whether or not to proceed and move forward with that particular applicant," Johnson said.

But the landlord would have to formally explain why the potential tenant was rejected.

Pittman, fears it'll be a cumbersome, complicated process that will delay his efforts to find good tenants.

"The burden is on us," Pittman said.

Pittman said he himself spent time in prison when he was a younger man, and got a second chance. But he and other landlords are asking for this – if they have comply with the new law, at least speed up the process to evict problem tenants.

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