Anti Tenant-Blacklist Bill To Be Introduced in City Council

New York, NY –  An “Anti Tenant-Blacklist” City Council bill to be introduced today would protect tenants named in housing court from being placed on “blacklists." The legislation, sponsored by Council Members Ben Kallos, Rory Lancman, Alan Maisel, and Mark Levine would prevent landlords from using the information to discriminate against tenants when they have satisfied the terms of an order issued in housing court. The so-called blacklists contain an estimated hundreds of thousands of names of would-be renters.

A tenant who believed they had been unfairly discriminated against could file a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights, according to the legislation. The body would investigate the matter, and, a violation was found, would levy a fine: $100/unit per month for first five instances through $2,000/unit per month for instances 21 and beyond. Voluntary reporting would cut the fee in half.
 
Currently, according to the New York Times, the courts sell a data feed of housing court information that once included the names and addresses of the tenants. In 2012, the Office of Court Administration deleted the names and addresses from the lists. But private companies have exploited a loophole that allows them to search publicly-available electronic case files with index numbers to find the names. 

The Office of Court Administration charges a $20,000 initial fee for the data feeds followed by $350 weekly payments. Private companies that purchase the information, such as CoreLogic SafeRent, TransUnion Rental Screening Solution, and ALM, then sell it to landlords--regardless of the particulars of the case. Many residents have reported that getting on such a blacklist can be a nightmare. 

The legislation mirrors former Assembly Member Jonathan Bing's state legislation to protect tenants from being blacklisted. Council Member Ben Kallos took inspiration from the legislation, which was introduced when he served as then-Assembly Member Bing's Chief of Staff. 

Advocacy at the State level by State Senator Liz Krueger, Assembly Member Dan O'Donnell and others ended with housing courts ceasing the practice of selling the names to private companies, which has made it more expensive and time-consuming for private companies to cull and resell the information to build the blacklists.
 
“Housing court is supposed to assist tenants and landlords in finding justice. Once a case has been settled, it is unjust to keep tenants on blacklists that prevent them from finding housing for years at a time," said Council Member Ben Kallos. "I am pleased to work with my colleagues in state government to find a solution to unfair, discriminatory landlord practices." 

"Tenants should be able to assert their rights in housing court without fear of being blacklisted and denied future housing," said Council Member Rory I. Lancman, chair of the Council's Committee on Courts & Legal Services. "Blacklisting is a discriminatory practice, plain and simple, and offends our most basic notions of fairness.  It certainly has no place in our courts."

"We cannot allow New Yorkers to be blacklisted simply for asserting their rights in housing court. I was proud to work with Senator Krueger to effect change on this issue at the state level, and I commend Council Member Kallos for taking the lead in New York City. I urge the City Council to pass this bill swiftly and extend its much-needed protections to our city’s residents," said Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell.

"End the Tenant Blacklist is good public policy. Tenants who withhold their rent because of repair problems in their apartment can be placed on a tenant blacklist and loose future opportunities to move since many landlords will not rent to tenants on this list.   This is extremely problematic public policy since it discourages tenants from exercising their rights. I applaud Council Member Kallos for introducing this legislation," said Harvey Epstein, Associate Director of the Urban Justice Center.

“The tenant blacklist is a baseless procedure that only looks at if you were taken to court. My current nonpayment case started with me withholding rent because I was not being provided with  services. Five years later I a m still not being provided services. The landlord not only does not provide basic services, but also has refused to make repairs and cure over 100+ violations that exist in the apartment. That said, it's the landlord that belongs on a blacklist, and not the tenant. I would like to downsize and leave my son in the apartment but can’t because no one will rent to me since I am on the blacklist Who would had thought that by withholding rent for services I would be facing these consequences.” Said Carmen Vega-Rivera a CASA Leader from CASA-New Settlement Apartments
 
“Ending the Tenant Blacklist is long overdue. The most vulnerable people throughout the city face  Housing Court without legal representation and have to live with these injustices for years. This needs to end our vulnerable communities need to be able to make choices about their housing. The tenant blacklist only creates an awful cycle of homeless and substandard living conditions.” Says Sheila Garcia, a Community Organizer at CASA-New Settlement.

"The tenant blacklists exists to threaten the rights of tenants and enables landlord harassment. Not only does it prevent New Yorkers from finding affordable housing, but it ensures they will not feel comfortable taking their landlord to court, even when necessary. We applaud Councilmembers Ben Kallos and Mark Levine for introducing legislation to end this discriminatory practice," said Ilana Maier, Program Director with the Met Council on Housing.