Cook county Just Housing Ordinance affects associations
Cook County adopted the Just Housing Ordinance (JHO) on April 25, placing substantial restrictions on the use of criminal background checks in the tenant screening process. The Cook County rules that govern the JHO were finalized on Nov. 21. Those rules establish an entirely new procedure for tenant screening, with bifurcated background checks, numerous notices and disclosures to applicants, and an "individualized assessment" of applicants who have convictions within three years of the application date.
Condominium associations and common interest community associations in Cook County will be required to comply with the JHO when renting an association-owned unit or when renting a unit for which the association has possession as the result of an assessment collection suit. Many Cook County associations will be required to revise their leasing rules to comply with the JHO.
The JHO took effect on Dec. 31 for all rental units in Cook County. However, a grace period within the rules prohibits the Commission on Human Rights from enforcing penalties under the JHO until after Jan. 31.
Therefore, all Cook County condominium associations and common interest community associations should have forms and policies drafted, with new leasing rules adopted, if necessary. Failure to do so may result in violations and penalties, so preparing is crucial.
Under the JHO, a landlord cannot review an applicant's criminal background until the applicant has been "prequalified" based on credit, rental history, income and other factors. Then, upon review of the criminal background check, landlords can only base a denial on convictions that have occurred within the last three years, after providing the applicant with a copy of the background check, reviewing any documents submitted by the applicant to dispute the conviction history, and performing a detailed "individualized assessment" of the applicant.
Note: Convictions older than three years from the date of the application cannot be considered, unless they resulted in a current sex offender registration or residency restriction.
To comply with the procedures established in the JHO, even before accepting an application fee, a landlord must first issue the prospective tenant a notice that includes specific disclosures. The landlord may then run preliminary investigations into all aspects of the application, except criminal background. If the tenant is "prequalified," then the landlord must send the prospective tenant notice that a criminal-background check will be run.
Upon receiving and reviewing the applicant's criminal history, if the applicant has criminal convictions within three years from the application date, the landlord cannot outright deny the applicant despite the severity of the crime. Instead, the landlord must provide the criminal background check to the applicant and allow the applicant a specific time in which to submit documents to dispute the conviction history. Whether or not the applicant submits such documentation, the landlord must also perform an "individualized assessment" of the applicant, considering numerous factors outlined in the rules.
Only after performing all of these steps may the landlord choose to deny an applicant who has convictions in the prior three years, based on a "demonstrable risk" of harm to personal safety or to property in the rental community.
Cook County condominium associations and common interest community associations must ensure that when renting an association-owned unit, or a unit where the association obtains possession in an assessment collection case, that the association's tenant screening process complies with the JHO and the proper notices are issued at each step.
Further, the board should review the association's leasing rules and, if the association requires owners who lease their units to submit a crime-free lease addendum, review the addendum for compliance with the JHO.
• David M. Bendoff is an attorney with Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit in the Chicago suburbs. Send questions for the column to him at CondoTalk@ksnlaw.com. The firm provides legal service to condominium, townhouse, homeowner associations and housing cooperatives. This column is not a substitute for consultation with legal counsel.