Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin: Just Housing Ordinance


Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin (13thDistrict) joined the Tuesday, May 28 meeting via Skype from Springfield to discuss the recently passed Just Housing Ordinance (JHO) by the Cook County Commission on Human Rights. The new law prohibits property owners and managers, including owners of condos and cooperatives, from asking about an applicant’s criminal background until after the housing provider makes a conditional approval of the applicant. Most members of the RPBG and Cook County’s property owner community feel that this new law will unduly complicate the screening process and cause property owners to be more defensive (out of concern for being sued).

Given the long and cordial relationship between the Rogers Park Builders Group and Commissioner Suffredin, RPBG President Mike Glasser invited the Commissioner to the May meeting, and asked him to explain why he co-sponsored this bill. Suffredin outlined the problems that ex-offenders face finding jobs and homes, and stated that the JHO simply codifies existing requirements already spelled out in a 2016 HUD guideline.

Glasser wrote eloquently about his position in the Spring Newsletter. Without repeating Mike’s position, suffice it to say that this impactful legislation is viewed by many property owners as both onerous and rife with potential for adverse unintended consequences if it remains in its current form.

Perhaps the greatest disappointment is not the legislation itself, but the process that lead to its passage with little input from property owners. Many in the apartment industry feel that Commissioners and supporters of this ordinance deliberately shut property owners out of the discussion while they were formulating the policy, knowing that the apartment and condo industries would raise objections.

Commissioner Suffredin insisted that the best opportunity for the apartment and condo industries to impact this policy is during the six month period where the Cook County Commission on Human Rights will be working on rules that the industry must follow. This process is presently ongoing. On July 25, 2019, the Commission submitted its proposed rules, which are subject to Board review. The Board seeks to have the new ordinance take effect on January 1, 2020.

While we appreciate the Commissioner’s offer to give us the chance to weigh in on the legislation, we respectfully suggest that the new process will add undue complexity for screening companies, property owners and managers. Worse, some owners may simply elect to stop running criminal background checks altogether.

We thank Commissioner Suffredin for speaking with the RPBG and, despite our firm disagreement, we are mindful of our obligations to adhere to the law. However, many housing providers view this ordinance as unworkable. It also serves as yet another example of how the political climate in Chicago and Cook County has turned ever more aggressively against property owners, and disregards the complexities of running a real estate business. The constant addition of burdens and unnecessary processes on landlords does nothing to solve our housing problems. If anything, it makes them worse.

Unintended consequences will likely follow, including a disincentive to invest in some of the County’s more challenging neighborhoods.