New Law, New Process
Is your Cooperative in compliance with changes in the application process mandated by Cook County? If your current application process considers criminal convictions along with income, prior occupancy, and other qualification matters, then that process violates Cook County law according to the Just Housing Amendment to the Human Rights Ordinance
All cooperatives in Cook County are now required to use a two-stage process for evaluating an applicant for membership. The first stage must have nothing to do with running a criminal background check or soliciting criminal background information about the applicant. The law prohibits this conduct at the first stage.
What if my cooperative is not in Cook County? These mandates only apply in Cook County . . . for now. But these mandates are the start of a movement that may spread throughout the country. Other metropolitan centers like Seattle and Detroit have already adopted similar laws. Be vigilant.
Why Can’t I Order a Criminal Background Report Right Away?
Your current practice probably asks for criminal background information right upfront. You cannot do that anymore. In the first stage, you can only ask about income, prior occupancy patterns, and all other matters that a cooperative has traditionally inquired about to determine if the applicant meets the minimum qualifications for membership. If the applicant meets those criteria and is qualified for membership, then the applicant is conditionally approved for membership.
This conditional approval for membership, however, is just that, it’s a conditional approval. It is subject to being withdrawn but only under some very narrow and well-defined circumstances pertaining to the applicant’s criminal history. This is where it gets tricky. Once conditional approval has been granted, then and only then may the Board obtain criminal background information on the applicant. If the applicant has no criminal background, then the previously granted conditional approval becomes final and the applicant becomes a member of the cooperative.
What Do I Do If The Applicant Has A Criminal Record?
If the criminal background information, however, on the applicant comes back positive then the Board must review that criminal background information. If no felony convictions have occurred in the three years prior to the application, then the conditional approval becomes a final approval.
If the criminal background information on the applicant is positive but the applicant has a criminal record occurring more than three years prior to the application, then the conditional approval also becomes a final approval. The Board is prohibited from using criminal background more than three years old.
What About Sex Offenders?
There is one exception to the three-year rule. If the applicant is a current sex offender subject to the sex offender registration act or subject to a current child sex offender residency restriction, then the Board may reject that applicant.
If the criminal background information on the applicant is positive within the last three years and does not pertain to sex offender registration or residency restrictions, then the Board must conduct an individualized assessment as to whether the applicant poses a demonstrable risk to the personal safety and/or property of others.
If the Board determines that the applicant poses a demonstrable risk to the personal safety and/or property of others based on the criminal convictions within the prior three years, then and only then made the Board withdraw the conditional approval and deny membership.
If the Board determines that the applicant does not pose a demonstrable risk to the personal safety and/or property of others based on the criminal convictions within the prior three years, then the conditional approval becomes final and the applicant becomes a member.
What Changes Must Be Made?
These standards must not only be written into a cooperative’s application forms, but additional notices must also be attached to the application forms to comply with the disclosure requirements of Cook County’s law.
In a nutshell, the cooperative is required to disclose in writing to all applicants that it evaluates criminal convictions in light of the new law’s rules and regulations, i.e., the cooperative will only consider the applicant’s criminal conviction history for the past three years after conducting an individualized assessment as to whether the applicant poses a demonstrable risk to the personal safety and/or property of others, or the applicant is a current sex offender subject to the sex offender registration act, or subject to a current child sex offender residency restriction.
Important and additional legal details are contained within the County’s rules and regulations. We encourage you to review these carefully. Please note the deadline for the enforcement of this provision is January 31, 2020. All changes to the documents of the cooperative should be made as soon as possible. See Cook County Commission on Human Rights Notice
.What About My Rights To Personal Safety and Protection of Property?
Cook County has substituted its judgment for that of the Board as to who is and who is not an acceptable criminal risk to your community. The County has said that anyone with a criminal conviction more than three years before the application is an acceptable risk. The County has declared that a Board’s opinion on such matters has no merit.
In so doing, the County has further eroded each member’s right of association in a cooperative membership society. The County’s approach is simply this– your rights to safety and the protection of your property must yield to an applicant’s desire for housing when the applicant has a criminal history more than three years old. If you’re not comfortable with the County’s abridgment of your rights, then here are the Commissioners
you need to talk to.
Interaction with local and other units of government is a critical cooperative responsibility. Should you have any questions or need further guidance, please feel free to contact an attorney familiar with cooperative law.
Please note this content is provided to our readers for educational purposes but it is not intended and should not be regarded as legal advice. Readers are encouraged to consult with competent legal counsel for personalized guidance.