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Tenant Blacklisting Can Follow Renters for Years

Tenant “blacklisting” is something many New York City renters may never have heard of – but which could potentially mar their chances of landing a good location years after a landlord dispute.

The process has been facilitated in recent years by so-called “tenant screening” companies. There are nearly 700 of them across the country. Their “blacklist” is actually a collection of data of lawsuits filed by or against landlords in housing court. It doesn’t matter the reason or the outcome of the resolution. A lot of times, a landlord-tenant lawsuit has more to do with whether the landlord is bad, rather than whether the tenant is good.

An example recently detailed in an NPR story involved a father who lived in the Bronx in 2009 with his wife and young son. However, when he discovered rats coming up from the basement into their first-floor unit, he asked managers of the building to take care of the problem. Despite repeated entreaties, nothing was done. Tenant decided to withhold his rent, which can be a powerful tactic to force uncooperative landlords to make necessary and legally-mandated repairs. But what happened in that case, as in so many others, is the landlord turned around and sued the tenant for eviction for nonpayment of rent. Tenant and landlord later settled the case out-of-court, but the lawsuit remained on record.

That record was later filed on the tenant blacklist. So when tenant sought to move to another location, he found himself being turned down by landlord after landlord after landlord. Finally, the realtor realized what had happened: Tenant had been to housing court, and his name had been entered into the tenant screening companies’ databases.

Unfortunately, these sources of information rarely include any of the valuable detail needed to make an informed choice. That means prospective landlords don’t get a chance to see whether a renter was merely asserting his or her rights, or whether they are actually a problematic tenant.

None of the companies that provide these tenant screening services would agree to an interview with NPR, but they did provide an email that indicated renters had the right to dispute any reports that may be incomplete or inaccurate.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act is the law by which these firms are regulated. Landlord advocates say it provides a valuable tool that helps to avoid problem tenants. They noted the fact that there are some “professional tenants” who make it a practice to move from one location to the next, routinely skipping out on several months rent at each location.

When a lawsuit goes to housing court, the case is assigned an index number. Those figures are then sold by the court to the companies that offer rental screening.

Unfortunately, there are no laws against the practice, as the information is all public.

Nothing is likely to change this practice anytime soon. However, that does not mean tenants are without option. First of all, when landlord tenant disputes do arise, they can talk with an attorney about whether some out-of-court settlement agreement or mediation can resolve it, so that the matter doesn’t proceed to court in the first place.

However, if the tenant’s name is already on the list, an attorney may be able to help a tenant clear his or her name by contacting each of the primary tenant screening providers in the region and negotiating to have their information removed from the database.

The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides representation for landlord tenant disputes in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or send us an e-mail.

Additional Resources:
Tenant Blacklist Can Haunt New York Renters For Years, Dec. 14, 2014,
More Blog Entries:
New York Commercial Lease Agreements Require Careful Review, Feb. 22, 2014, New York Landlord Tenant Lawyer Blog