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Landlord Groups Fume As NYC Council Mulls Proposal To Prevent Criminal Background Checks Of Potential Tenants

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- There has been an 11th-hour attempt by the City Council to pass a controversial bill that would prevent landlords from doing criminal background checks on potential tenants.

It could affect residents of several million rental apartments, condos and co-ops, CBS2's Marcia Kramer reported.

Landlord groups were in an uproar Wednesday, charging that the safety of millions of tenants is on the line if the lame duck mayor and lame duck City Council ram through a bill that prevents them from checking the criminal histories of people before they allow them to move into their buildings.

"Murder, assault, battery, drug dealing, gun running, sex crimes," said Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association.

Strasburg, the head of the largest organization of apartment building owners, ran thorough a partial list of the crimes landlords would be unable to check for before renting apartments to prospective tenants, under a new bill sponsored by Councilman Stephen Levin.

"People with children want to know who their tenants are and putting blinders on the owner and not telling the tenant, I think is a disservice, and this experiment of social engineering is gonna really result in chaos and increase in crime that's going to occur in buildings," Strasburg said.

The bill would affect an estimated 2.6 million tenants of coops, condos and rent-stabilized buildings in the five boroughs.

It would not affect the more than 500,000 people who live in 335 NYCHA developments.

"Here, we are seeing all the crime on subways and this legislation is going to open the door and bring some of that crime into apartment buildings," Strasburg said.

Councilman Levin disagrees, saying his bill will be a game changer.

"Safe and stable housing is a right every New Yorker deserves, yet conviction records continue to be used to punish and discriminate against people long after they have left the criminal legal system," Levin said in a statement. "Removing restrictive barriers would increase access to housing for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and make it possible for people to restart their lives."

The bill is also supported by Mayor Bill de Blasio, with a spokesman Mitch Schwartz saying, "Stable housing reduces recidivism. Discriminatory housing practices make it worse. Keeping our city safe means changing the way we think about housing equity -- not repeating the same mistakes that leave people behind, even long after they've left the justice system."

"The problem with renting now is you could end up renting to a serial killer, somebody who has a whole horrible background. You could have children in the building. You could have elderly in the building," one woman said.

"That's a bad idea because you don't know who's moving in to your safe place, your safe haven, so I don't think that's a good idea," added Adonia Clarke of the Bronx.

A spokesman for the mayor pointed out the bill doesn't prevent landlords from evicting anyone who causes harm to the building or other tenants.

Editor's note: This story first appeared on Dec. 8.

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