Tenants Leaving Housing Court Would See Protection from Discrimination by Landlords Under Legislation Re-Introduced in New York City Council
New York, NY – New York City tenants who go to housing court could receive protections from the so-called “tenant blacklist” under legislation re-introduced yesterday by City Council Member Ben Kallos. Tenant screening companies, which create “tenant blacklists,” would be regulated to ensure they provide fair and complete information, including court records that show when tenants were in the right. Landlords would also be prevented from using the information to discriminate against tenants when the terms of an order issued in housing court have been satisfied. Together this legislation will lessen the number of prospective tenants denied a place to live merely because they were involved in a housing court case.
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 SafeRent, TransUnion Rental Screening Solution, On-Site, and ALM.
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.
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 tenant who believed they had been unfairly discriminated against could file a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights for investigation, and if a violation was found, would levy a fine of $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.
“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.”
“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.”
“By weaponizing public court documents to compile a tenant blacklist, screening companies and landlords have made a business out of discriminating against any applicant who has been to housing court for any reason, and have created an enormous, intimidating penalty to discourage tenants from exercising their legal right to withhold rent for needed repairs or to take their landlord to court if necessary,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “We obviously can’t seal all court documents, so we need to take a creative, multi-angled approach to regulating screening services and cracking down on discrimination by landlords. I’m proud to cosponsor this latest legislation with Council Member Kallos.”
“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 Krueger.
“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 longtime tenant and consumer rights attorney who has led the fight against tenant blacklisting in NYC for 15 years.
"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 am 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.
“Low-income New Yorkers already face numerous obstacles finding affordable housing in New York City,” said Carolyn E. Coffey of Mobilization for Justice 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.”