The Basics of the Just Housing Ordinance (JHO)
The Just Housing Ordinance (JHO) applies to any housing unit within Cook County, Illinois; JHO application is not based on the property management company’s address or the applicant’s current address. Non-compliance can result in fees of $100-500 per day and per offense. The JHO outlines rules for background screenings that act in addition to the Federal Credit Reporting Act’s (FCRA) current legislation.
Expanded information about the JHO is listed out below, just remember that the JHO prohibits inquiring, considering, or requiring disclosure of criminal conviction history before the completion of Step 3 below.
1. Housing providers have to provide a “tenant selection criteria” that explains their requirements for tenants’ qualifications, their rights to dispute a criminal background check, and a copy of the Commission’s procedural rules or a link to the Housing Commission’s website.
2. Housing providers have to conduct any pre-qualification requirements before running a criminal history background check. This pre-qualification looks at things like credit history, income, rental history, etc. Essentially, it’s any qualification housing providers have for tenants except anything related to criminal history. An applicant must pass all of the qualifications before going through a criminal history background check.
3. If a tenant passes these qualifications, the next step is to notify them that they’ve passed the pre-qualification and that the next step is to conduct a criminal background check on them. Per the JHO, the conduction of pre-qualification requirements and background checks must be done in a two-step process. Prior to conducting a criminal background check, all elements involving a CRA require an FCRA compliant consent form to be obtained. FCRA requirements are not waived on this ordinance.
- Note: If you’re currently using Verified First for pre-qualifying credit, you will need to get consent from the applicant prior to conducting the credit check. In the event that you are only utilizing Verified first for the criminal portion, be sure to obtain the consent prior to submitting your criminal request.
4. When housing providers conduct background checks, they can only consider convictions; they also cannot consider convictions older than three years from the date of the housing application. There is an exception that allows housing providers to consider current and active registrations on a sex offender registry.
5. Once housing providers receive the background report, they have to provide a copy to the applicant within five business days. If the applicant finds any inaccurate or irrelevant information in their report, they also have five business days to dispute that.
6. If the housing provider discovers a tenant’s criminal history, they have to conduct an Individualized Assessment to determine if they’re a “demonstrable risk.” Read on for more details.
7. If housing providers find a demonstrable risk, they can deny the tenant’s application. However, when doing so, they have to provide a written letter explaining why they determined there was demonstrable risk.
- Note: Housing providers must approve or deny an individual’s housing application within three business days of an applicant disputing or rebutting information from the criminal background check, as stated in Section 760.100.
Disputing Background Checks
With the FCRA, an applicant can only dispute the accuracy of their background check. The JHO goes much further. An applicant can also dispute the relevancy of any existing criminal records, and they can dispute the records by showing evidence of rehabilitation related to the crimes.
For example, if the crimes relate to something like a drunk driving conviction, a tenant might argue that that crime isn’t necessarily relevant to a demonstrable risk for their housing. Or, if someone assaulted someone, but then went to years of therapy, had a court document showing their improvements, and had personal recommendations, they might be able to show enough evidence of rehabilitation to negate their crime.
After an applicant files a dispute, the housing provider has three business days to review the information and make a decision. It’s up to the housing provider to review any additional documentation to determine relevancy and evidence of rehabilitation. However, if the housing provider rejects the applicant, the applicant can file a complaint with the Housing Commission, at which point they’d determine relevancy and evidence of rehabilitation.
Note: Verified First will address any accuracy disputes as required per the FCRA. Compliance with additional JHO dispute requirements, such as relevancy, will fall on the housing provider.
Determining Demonstrable Risk with the Individualized Assessment
If a housing provider finds that an applicant has a criminal record, they have to conduct an individualized assessment to determine whether the applicant poses a demonstrable risk to the safety of others or the property. This assessment should look at factors like the severity of the offense, how recently it occurred, the number of other criminal convictions, and so on. If an individual’s crime resulted in them being listed on the current sex offender registry, housing providers do not have to conduct an individualized assessment before rejecting the individual.
Once housing providers conduct this assessment, they’ll be able to determine whether those crimes pose a demonstrable risk. This refers to the “likelihood of harm to other residents’ personal safety and/or likelihood of serious damage to property” according to the ordinance.
Notifying Applicants of an Adverse Decision
If housing providers decide not to accept an applicant based on their criminal history, they must provide an explanation in writing that outlines why their denial is based on a demonstrable risk. It must also inform the applicant of their right to file a complaint with the Housing Commission.
Getting Help with the Screening Process
Now, we know that was a lot to take in, but don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. Call us to learn more about how we can build a Cook County screening package for you, today!
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