Criminal Records Background Checks News

Renters could get extra scrutiny through anti-terrorist measures

By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN

Associated Press

June 3, 2002, 6:46 PM EDT

NEW YORK -- Criminal background probes could become as common as credit checks for New York apartment hunters, said landlords and managers who met Monday with police and FBI counter-terrorist experts. Law enforcement officials instructed property owners and management firms how to detect terrorists looking to sabotage buildings or use them as bases of operations, participants leaving police headquarters said. "We have to get over this blase New York attitude," said Dan Margulies, director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, a landlords' group. The business interests requested the meeting after the FBI warned in April that the al-Qaida terrorist network had discussed the possibility of renting apartments with the intention of blowing them up. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Monday that al-Qaida links with militant groups that conducted such attacks in Chechnya lent credence to the warning. Counter-terrorist measures under consideration range from background checks for renters to legislation requiring tenants to provide the identities of people living in their apartments, landlords and police said. "We're going to create a cottage industry by having more and more people involved in background checks," said Joe Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, a 25,000-member property owners group. Kelly said landlords also mentioned the possibility of state or city legislation allowing landlords to demand the identities of people living in their buildings, and he asked New Yorkers to call a new 24-hour anti-terrorist hot line, 888-NYC-SAFE, if they observe any suspicious activity. The measures under discussion for landlords sound unnecessary and overly intrusive, said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "The war on terror has been used by the federal government as a vehicle to expand the law enforcement of federal agencies in areas well beyond terrorism," she said. "It seems that this is an analogous effort." Law enforcement officials warned landlords and managers to closely scrutinize documents such as drivers' licenses and passports, advising them in some cases to verify that tenants with student visas are actually enrolled in schools, attendees said. They also cautioned rental agents to keep a close eye on tenants paying deposits in cash and living without much furniture or telephone service. Asking for an apartment whose only salient feature is that it overlooks a potential terror target is also a warning sign, attendees said. "We're in uncharted waters," Kelly said. "To a certain extent, they have to use common sense."

Copyright © 2002, The Associated Press