FAQ: What is a Tenant Blacklist?
- September 8, 2015
- Joel Winston
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What is a Tenant Blacklist?
Courts around the country are selling their docket information, which includes the personal details about individuals contained in case filings. Often provided as a digital data feed from Courts directly to private companies, this docket information is being purchased by private data companies, debt collectors, and credit reporting agencies.
In the area of residential and tenant disputes, renters who are named in a Housing Court proceeding may end up on what is called a “tenant blacklist.” Specifically, private tenant screening companies and credit reporting agencies purchase personal information about renters involved in Housing Court cases.
Then, these credit reporting agencies compile the personal information in large “tenant blacklist” databases and sell special “rental credit reports” to landlords and property managers. When a renter submits an application, landlords can use these special renters credit reports to decide to accept or reject the renter. Landlords may also use renters credit reports to determine the price of rent.
Each court jurisdiction has its own policy about the release or sale of personal information contained in it’s case docket. In the State of New York, the New York Office of Court Administration sells the personal information of renters involved in New York Housing Court cases to private tenant screening companies. This includes personal information about renters from Housing Court in New York City (including Housing Court cases filed in the Bronx Housing Court, Kings Civil Court, New York City Housing Court, Richmond Civil Court, Redhook Community Justice Center, Queens Civil Court, and Harlem Community Court).
What Happens if My Name is on a Tenant Blacklist?
Most landlords will not rent to you if you have ever been involved in a legal proceeding with a previous landlord. If your name appears in the Housing court’s database, it can be difficult to find a new rental in New York City and other cities across the country. Even if a renter wins her case against the landlord, or the case is dismissed, the renters name will still be included on the tenant blacklist.
Tenant blacklists are often inaccurate, incomplete, or misleading — or all three. For example, if a tenant is awarded a 90% rent abatement because of deplorable conditions in the home, a tenant blacklist report will report the disposition of that case simply as a “judgment” against the tenant for the remaining 10% of the rent. That makes it appear as though the landlord won the case when, in fact, the tenant won the case.
What is a Tenant Screening Report?
Tenant screening reports are produced by companies for landlords who want to “screen” out applicants for their apartments who they think will be bad tenants. Tenant screening reports and tenant background checks are other names for a tenant blacklist.
What Information is In a Tenant Blacklist?
A tenant blacklist (or special renters credit report) tells the landlord if an individual has ever been sued in Housing Court (or in Civil Court for a housing dispute). The renters credit report often contains specific details about the case, including type of legal action, date of proceedings, the amount of rent demanded, and the outcome of the case. The reports also may contain other public record information, including: criminal background, bankruptcy history, sex offender status and overall credit worthiness.
Is a Tenant Blacklist the Same as a Credit Report?
No. Credit reports and tenant screening reports have different information. Unlike tenant screening reports which contain primarily Housing Court case information, financial credit reports are records of how you have borrowed and repaid credit. These reports will show any judgments awarded by any court as well as your credit score. Usually Housing Court cases only appear on a financial credit report if there was a judgment issued in the case.
Financial credit reports are issued primarily by the three major credit organizations, TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Confusingly, the three major credit organizations also sell their own brands of special renters credit reports: TransUnion Rental Screening Solutions, Inc. sells the SmartMove Rental Report; Experian RentBureau sells the RentBureau Rental File; and Equifax sells the Resident and Tenant Screening Report. These special renters credit reports contain information from tenant blacklist databases.
How Does My Name End Up on Tenant Screening Reports?
The companies search through the Housing Court data they purchased from the Court to see if you have ever been involved in a court proceeding with a landlord. If you have been involved in a court proceeding with a landlord in the previous 7 years, you will appear as having a history in Housing Court. Sometimes the report will list cases of other people with a name that is similar to your name. You may file a dispute with the specific tenant screening company to have any wrong entries removed.
What Can I Do?
If you are denied an apartment, ask why. If the landlord denied your application because of information obtained from a credit reporting agency or a tenant screening bureau, the landlord is required to tell you the name and address of the agency it used. This is called an “adverse action” notice. You can send a copy of that notice to the credit report company and tenant screening bureaus to obtain a free copy of your credit/tenant screening report. Check your special renters credit report to make sure it is accurate. Sometimes these reports have your name by mistake, or they have inaccurate information. You have the right to dispute any inaccurate or misleading information in your report.
Under NYC Admin Code §20-807 to §20-811, New York City landlords and real estate agents who use tenant screening reports must list the name of the companies they use on rental applications and post it in their office. If you suspect your name is on a report, and want to check before you apply to rent a house or apartment in New York City, you can request a copy of your report from the screening companies listed.
How Can I Get a Copy of My Tenant Screening Reports?
Under the Fair Credit and Reporting Act (FCRA) these companies must provide you with a free copy every 12 months, or if you have been denied an apartment because of a report issued by that company. You can mail your request to these companies or call them by telephone to submit your requests.
The New York State Bar Association estimates there are hundreds of these tenant screening companies. Here’s a partial list of these Tenant Screening/ Tenant Blacklisting Companies. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also publishes an informal list of Tenant Screening/ Tenant Blacklisting Companies (link to PDF document, “CFPB List of Consumer Reporting Agencies”).