“Tenant Blacklist” Reporting Companies Would Be Regulated by New York City Council Legislation

08/16/2016

Fair and Complete Tenant Screening Reports Would Protect Renters Who Have Been in Court from Being Targeted by Landlords and Refused Apartments

New York, NY – Tenant screening companies which create so called “tenant blacklists” would be regulated to ensure they provide fair and complete information, including court records that show when tenants were in the right. This added level of scrutiny will lessen the number of prospective tenants who in many cases are repeatedly denied a place to live merely because they were involved in a housing court case. This legislation is authored by Council Members Ben Kallos, introduced with Public Advocate Leticia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, with support from Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell and State Senator Liz Krueger.
 
Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers named in housing court cases every year are reported to be on “tenant blacklists.” These “blacklists” are created by screening reports sold by companies along with credit reports and are often used to deny applications to renters. Tenant screening companies who provide a list of those named in housing court cases without any indication of the particulars or outcome of the case include: CoreLogic SafeRentTransUnion Rental Screening SolutionOn-Site, and ALM. This legislation would license these companies and require them to provide the necessary details of housing court cases such as the outcome and who initiated the proceedings in order to protect tenants who were in the right from being “blacklisted,” a frightening prospect for anyone looking for an apartment in an already tough renters market.
 
The legislation requires anyone who assembles or evaluates screening reports which contain court histories to register and obtain a license from the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) and requires the following:

  • Each housing court case mentioned must contain the names of all parties involved, the claims alleged, the current status or outcome of the case, and which party initiated the case;
  • Tenant screening companies will have to state the defenses asserted by the tenant and the specific outcome of the case, including any rent abatement awarded.
  • The Department of Consumers Affairs is tasked with enforcement with civil penalties of $500 per report inaccurate report and fines for non-compliance up to $5,000.
  • Anyone who believes they have been harmed by an inaccurate screening report could bring their own case in court.

 “No one should face discrimination for having exercised their constitutional right to seek justice in the courts. Tenant screening companies have a responsibility to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but truth about house court cases,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “We can't have a legal system where someone can be vindicated in housing court against a bad landlord and then repeatedly denied a place to live. Tenant blacklists degrade housing court and create a system where even if you win, you lose.”
 
“The tenant blacklist has been a black mark on our housing market for far too long. New York is a city of renters, and Housing Court should be able to defend renters’ rights; but it can’t do so if tenants can be bullied and intimidated by the threat of blacklisting. I’ve spoken with too many of my constituents unable to have their day in court because of their very real fear of ending up on the blacklist. I thank Council Member Kallos and his partners for pushing this vital legislation to protect the rights of everyday New Yorkers,” said State Senator Liz Kreuger.
 
“We must ensure our renting process is fair and unimpeded by tenant blacklists that often prevent eligible applicants from being selected as renters,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “These lists block tenants from much needed housing, often without adequate or justified reason. I am proud to sponsor this critical legislation with Council Member Kallos, which will improve the methods by which tenants are evaluated, and ensure that no one is turned away without reason from the home that they deserve.”
 
"It's insane that asserting your rights in court -- or being wrongfully dragged to court by your landlord -- can get you practically exiled from New York City," said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. "This industry needs strong rules enforced by an equally strong consumer protection agency, so tenant screening doesn't equal wholesale discrimination."
  
“Access to adequate housing is a human right that we must uphold and protect,” said Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell. “Going to court to defend your right to housing or advocate for a quality standard of living should not result in being blacklisted. The current practice of automatically blacklisting tenants who engage with the housing court system paints all tenants as problematic, when that is certainly not always the case. It violates our fundamental value of innocence until proven guilty. The result is that taking a tenant to court, in and of itself can become akin to harassment. I applaud the efforts of Council Member Ben Kallos, Public Advocate Letitia James, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer for proposing a solution to this problem which is fair for both tenants and landlords.”
 
“New York State and New York City give tenants the strongest protections anywhere in the country. Those rights are useless, however, when tenants become blacklisted simply because they were named in a Housing Court proceeding, no matter how baseless.  This bill, which is the strongest of its kind in the country, dramatically levels the playing field for tenants by requiring that the full story be told about Housing Court cases so that tenants are not punished for defending themselves against erroneous or baseless eviction claims when they seek new housing,” said James B. Fishman, a long time tenant and consumer rights attorney who has led the fight against tenant blacklisting in NYC for 15 years.
 
“Low-income New Yorkers already face numerous obstacles finding affordable housing in New York City,” said Carolyn E. Coffey of MFY Legal Services, Inc.  “Landlords should not exacerbate our City’s housing crisis by relying on credit reports with inaccurate and incomplete information, which deters tenants from asserting their rights and also results in unfair denials of housing applications from potential tenants.”