Also Votes on Gang Initiation Bill That Creates Law to Fight Gang Initiation Activity

City Hall, February 11, 2010 – At today’s Stated Council meeting the members of the City Council will vote on the Tenant Fair Chance Act, legislation designed to assist tenants in accessing reports that many landlords use to determine a tenant’s suitability for housing. Additionally, the Council will avlso vote on legislation to heighten penalties for participating in criminal street gang initiation activity.

Safeguarding millions of New York City tenants, the Council will vote on the Tenant Fair Chance Act to give tenants a greater level of protection when applying for housing. Specifically, this law will require landlords and any other person who uses a tenant screening report to asses a potential tenant’s suitability for housing to disclose any the name and address of the tenant screening company who prepared the report.

A tenant screening report is a type of consumer report listing a person’s housing court history. Often landlords use these reports to determine whether to rent to a tenant. Federal law permits tenants to receive one free copy per year of their tenant report yet many people are unaware of the existence of tenant screening reports and how to access them. Furthermore, there are hundreds of national companies that prepare tenant screening reports making access to these records exceedingly confusing.

Because housing court data is reported by name, not social security number, the reported information may not even be about the prospective tenant, but may be connected to another tenant with the same name. As a result, a tenant can be denied an apartment because they are thought to be another tenant with a similar or same name. With the passing of this legislation, tenants will have a chance to see their tenant screening reports and correct any inaccurate information.

“Prospective tenants across our city have been denied by landlords for the simple fact that their tenant screening report shows a housing court action,” said Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “By streamlining the process for tenants and giving them easier access to reports they are entitled to view, we can ensure that all New Yorkers are given a fair chance to find a new home.”

“With two-thirds of New Yorkers renting, this bill is vital for our City,” said Council Member Karen Koslowitz, Chair of the Consumer Affairs Committee. “In a time when many New Yorkers are struggling to pay rent, we are putting together legislation that will ease the entire process for tenants. This bill is giving tenants rights they deserve when trying to find a new home.”

“Today, we are taking another step to ensure that the deck is not stacked against the renters of this city,” said Council Member Dan Garodnick, who authored the Tenant Protection Act of 2007 and introduced the Tenant Fair Chance Act. “By improving the accuracy and transparency of tenant screening reports, we are making sure that tenants who assert their rights in court don’t face a backlash for it the next time they try to rent an apartment.”

Many landlords will see a housing court action for non-payment and refuse to rent their apartments to a prospective tenant without considering underlying circumstances. For example, if a tenant takes part in a rent strike (when tenants will pay rent into an escrow account rather than to their landlord) to protest deplorable living conditions and is sued in court for payment of back rent, no mention is made of this context in the report.

Unclear and unfair reports have been so rampant in New York City that in 2004, the First American Registry, now known as First Advantage SafeRent, was sued because it produced an inaccurate report. A Manhattan federal judge found the company guilty of producing inaccurate and incomplete reports and forced it to pay $1.9 million as a result.

Announced in Speaker Quinn’s 2009 State of the City address, the Council will vote on legislation to create a specific law for those engaging in criminal street gang initiation, to define criminal street gang activity, and to punish those engaging in such illegal activity with an A misdemeanor .

“Today is a crucial step in the fight against gang violence and gang initiation rituals,” said Speaker Quinn. “Teenagers across our City are dying in their communities in a hail of bullets, but to stop this violence, witnesses must take a balanced approach to keep gang related activity and gang related crimes down. We’re acting now to keep New York City the safest big city in America. I want to thank Peter Vallone, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, Council Member Arroyo, and my colleagues for standing strong in our crusade against gang violence.”

“This bill seeks to aid in the prosecution of those engaging in criminal gang initiation activity and reduce the negative influences these crimes have on the quality of life in our communities and across our city,” said Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo, lead sponsor of the bill. “I would like to thank Speaker Quinn and Chair Vallone for their work on this important legislation.”

Specifically, to be subject to prosecution under this law, one would have to:
• be involved in an initiation;
• the initiation would have to be into a criminal street gang; and
• the person prosecuted would have to engage in some type of conduct that creates a risk of physical injury or the fear of injury in another person.

The bill defines a criminal street gang as an “ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, that engages in criminal conduct as one of its primary purposes or activities.”