April 2019, the Cook County Commissioners approved a Just Housing Amendment (JHA) that impacts the screening process for any property located in the county.
The legislation prohibits lessors from inquiring about, or reviewing, an applicant's criminal history until the lessor has determined that the applicant pre-qualifies for the unit based on their application including their credit, eviction, and rental history check.
The intent of the ordinance is to prevent housing discrimination among persons with a criminal background. Any landlord or property management company in Cook County that conducts tenant screening will need to incorporate the new JHA procedure.
The legislation requires a two-step tenant screening process be followed:
We’ve been working on improvements to Rent Application to help you comply with this two-step process.
After an applicant submits an application to a Cook County-based address, we’ll process the screening reports as usual, but we won’t display the criminal report until you explicitly acknowledge that the applicant is pre-qualified.
Here’s how that looks:
Additionally, after an applicant has satisfied the pre-qualification standards for housing, the amendment requires the lessor to notify the applicant that the first step of the screening procedure has been satisfied and that a criminal background check will be performed.
Here's what the email says:
Once you've clicked the button to confirm that the applicant pre-qualifies for tenancy, we'll send an email to the applicant, satisfying this requirement.
Once the box has been checked and the email sent, the criminal report is revealed to view. In the top left corner, you’ll see the email address of the user who pre-qualified the applicant, as well as the date the applicant was pre-qualified for your records.
In addition to the mandated multi-step process, the amendment prohibits lessors from considering any information related to criminal convictions that are more than three years old.
Most applicant’s criminal reports will not return any hits, but in the case that they do, as the decision-maker, the landlord would need to perform an Individualized Assessment.
“Individualized Assessment” means a process by which a person considers all factors relevant to an individual’s conviction history from the previous three (3) years. An individualized assessment is not required for convictions that are more than three (3) years old. Factors that may be considered in performing the Individualized Assessment include, but are not limited to:
A housing provider must perform an individualized assessment prior to denying an individual housing based on criminal conviction history, except in the following circumstances:
(A) A current sex offender registration requirement pursuant to the Sex Offender Registration Act (or similar law in another jurisdiction); and/or
(B) A current child sex offender residency restriction.
Because it will be illegal to reject an applicant based on their criminal history before pre-qualifying them, we encourage you to review your application forms and remove any questions that inquire about criminal history.
You may want to add additional language to the Authorization Language field on your forms as well. Here is an example of the text you might add to address the full terms of the JHA:
COOK COUNTY JUST HOUSING DISCLOSURE
If you are submitting a rental application for a property located in Cook County, Illinois, Article II of the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance ("Ordinance") prohibits unlawful discrimination against a person because of any of the following: race, color, sex, age, religion, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, military discharge, source of income, gender identity or housing status. The Just Housing Amendment to the Ordinance provides that any written or unwritten housing policy or practice that discriminates against applicants based on their criminal history, is a violation of the Ordinance. Any written or unwritten housing policy or practice which discriminates against applicants based on their convictions, prior to the completion of an individualized assessment, also violates the Ordinance.
If you are submitting a rental application for a property located in Cook County, the Ordinance requires that you be provided with the information below.
Tenant Selection Criteria
If the property you applied for is located in Cook County, due to the Ordinance, the owner of the property you have applied for does NOT evaluate applicants based on criminal history or criminal convictions. If the property is located in Cook County, your application may be evaluated and/or denied based on the following criteria:
(a) dishonesty or fraud in the application materials submitted; (b) past eviction history; (c) references; (d) insufficient income; (e) lack of current or continued employment; (f) credit scores; and (g) any other lawful criteria.
IF YOU ARE APPLYING FOR A RENTAL PROPERTY LOCATED IN COOK COUNTY, BY APPLYING TO RENT THIS PROPERTY, YOU ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT YOU ARE APPLYING FOR RENTAL HOUSING WHERE OTHER TENANTS MAY NOT HAVE BEEN SUBJECT TO A CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECK.
Right to Dispute Conviction History:
If the property is located in Cook County, if a landlord denies your application based on conviction history, the Ordinance provides that you have the right to provide evidence demonstrating inaccuracies within the conviction history and/or evidence of rehabilitation and other mitigating factors.
Contacting the Cook County Commission on Human Rights.
Commission's Address: 69 W. Washington Street, Suite 3040, Chicago, Illinois 60602
Commission's Phone Number: 312-603-1100
Applicant hereby consents to the use of an electronic signature method for purposes of this agreement.
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