New York Times Recourse for Blacklisted Tenats by Ronda Kaysen

New York Times
New York Times
Recourse for Blacklisted Tenats
Ronda Kaysen
12/19/2015

Ask Real Estate is a weekly column that answers questions from across the New York region. Submit yours to realestateqaatnytimes [dot] com.

Housing Court to Blacklist

How do I find out if my landlord has added my name to the tenant blacklist? And if he has, how can I get it removed?

Upper West Side

Among the many injustices that New York City tenants endure is the tenant blacklist — or, technically, blacklists, as they are compiled by different tenant-screening database companies. Any tenant named in a housing court holdover or nonpayment case can end up on one or more of these lists.

The companies buy and compile housing court data from the state Office of Court Administration. Landlords, in turn, use the information to screen prospective tenants, often rejecting those who have been to housing court. But the information is frequently incomplete, misleading or wrong, according to housing advocates and tenant lawyers. For example, a tenant who withheld rent because of atrocious living conditions like rats or mold could end up blacklisted, even if he prevailed in court.

“Tenants should have the right to be able to go into court to protect themselves when their landlord is doing something wrong, without facing discrimination afterward,” said Benjamin J. Kallos, a New York City councilman who sponsored legislation that would bar landlords from discriminating against tenants on the lists, except in cases where the tenant has not satisfied the terms of an order issued by the courts.

Because the blacklist is information compiled by a variety of independent screening bureaus, there is no central place where you can plug in your name to see if it appears. (There are about 650 such companies nationwide that resell the information to one another, according to the New York State Bar Association.) This also makes it difficult to correct problems or errors once they appear.

Unsuspecting tenants often learn that their names have been sullied when they try to rent apartments. If you have been to housing court and suspect that your name might be on a list, request a report from a company likeCoreLogicTransUnion or On-Site. If your name is listed in error, write to the company, explain the mistake and ask that your name be removed, said David Hershey-Webb, a Manhattan tenant lawyer.

If you are listed because you were named in a court case, however, “it is a little trickier,” Mr. Hershey-Webb said. In that case, consider hiring a consumer lawyer to help you navigate the waters, or ask your current landlord for a reference letter; with luck, a future landlord might accept it as an alternative.

A Pianist Silenced

When I bought my apartment in 2008, the co-op board knew I was a pianist. At my interview, the board agreed that I could practice until 10 p.m. For four years, my piano playing was never a problem. But in 2012, new shareholders moved in and complained about the noise. In response, the board instituted a policy that requires me to stop practicing at 9 p.m. It also restricts shareholders from conducting business in their apartments after 5 p.m., meaning I can no longer teach private evening lessons. These changes are damaging my career as a musician and teacher. Is the board allowed to renege on a previous agreement and enforce a rule that did not exist when I bought my apartment?

Harlem, Manhattan

When you buy into a co-op, you agree to abide by the co-op’s proprietary lease and house rules. Most building rules allow boards to adopt or amend house rules from time to time. And all owners are bound by the new rules, even if they are more restrictive, said David L. Berkey, a Manhattan real estate lawyer. For you, that means no more piano after 9 p.m., and no evening lessons.

Unfortunately, I have more bad tidings. When you teach these piano lessons, you are conducting a business, so the noise is considered commercial, not residential. And commercial noise is regulated by the noise code 24 hours a day. So your neighbor could call 311 at any time and file a noise complaint, regardless of house rules. If an inspector issues a violation, the fine for a first offense for music made from a commercial establishment is usually a stunning $3,200, said Alan Fierstein, the owner of Acoustilog, an acoustical consultant. Subsequent fines could potentially cost you tens of thousands of dollars.

But all is not lost. “There may be a practical solution,” Mr. Berkey said. Try to work out an agreement with the co-op board and the neighbor. Offer to soundproof your apartment. In exchange, ask that the board modify or make an exception to its new rules to allow you to teach in the evenings and practice until 10 p.m. If it agrees to this, get the agreement in writing.

Endless Stream of Noisy Guests

I am a rent-stabilized tenant in a co-op building. The shareholder above me lives in Paris and often lends her apartment to “relatives” when she is not in residence. This changing cast of characters makes noise and is very disturbing. The co-op has rules, but they are not well enforced, and the super and doormen do not have the authority to evict the “sisters” and “in-laws” stomping around the apartment night and day. Are there any city laws that govern absentee shareholders lending out their apartments?

 

Issue: 
Affordable Housing