Friday, July 23, 2010

Tenant Blacklist - Check out the video


According to a very useful video put out by the New York State Bar Association for non-lawyers: When a landlord sues a tenant in housing court, regardless of who wins,  the tenant's name can appear in data that the Housing Court sells each day to private companies for "Tenant Screening Reports."  It is not illegal for the courts to sell this information to private companies: court records are public documents.  [See below for more specifics on how names end up in the data sold.] Those companies then sell the data to other landlords when the same tenant is trying to move into a new apartment. The data is supposed to be accurate, but often is not, and it does not state who won or lost the case. There are some 350,000 cases brought by landlords in housing court in New York City each year. About 5% of those are tenants suing their landlords for repairs (called "HP" actions - referring to "Housing Part"), and their names might NOT appear on these lists.

Tenant screening reports contain the names of tenants whose cases were placed on the court calendar - where the landlord brings the case and the tenant is the "respondent." There are 3 kinds of typical housing court  actions:

  • Nonpayment of rent
    • Where the tenant is short of money or  has forgotten to pay the rent
    • Where the tenant is withholding rent (as permitted under New York State law) because the landlord has failed to make needed repairs in violation of the Warranty of Habitability.
In Nonpayment cases, the tenant's name is not put on the calendar until the tenant files a formal Answer and the tenant gets a date for a hearing. So negotiation with the owner before those events is helpful.
  • "Holdovers"  - the owner wants the tenant out. 
    • The owner claims the tenant does not actually live in his/her rent stabilized apartment.
    • The owner claims the person has no right to "succeed to" (take over the lease of) the apartment when the former primary tenant has left the apartment or died.
In Holdover cases, the tenant's name goes on the calendar as soon as the landlord files the case.

  • "Housing Part" or "HP" actions - the tenant sues the landlord for repairs. In this situation, the tenant is the person bringing the action, or the "petitioner," and the owner is the "respondent."
So in HP cases, the tenant's name may not end up on a tenant screening report.

Tenants who find themselves facing a landlord court action should try to include specific language in agreements between the parties that are filed with the court "to minimize or undo some harm, but this can be a difficult process, and is close to impossible for tenants without attorneys," writes Brendan Enright, Information and Advocacy Coordinator of Housing Court Answers, a service of the the City Wide Task Force on Housing Court. They have a website section on this issue at

Try to avoid the 2 long-term effects of a judgment against a tenant in housing court - or even of being sued in housing court at all:

(1) Damage to Credit reports. The three major companies (Experion, Equifax and TransUnion) that issue credit reports will show judgments against tenants, and the resulting damage to the tenant's credit rating can lead to higher rates on insurance and car payments, for example. To minimize this damage, tenants should try to get language that says the the judgment will be vacated upon proof of payment. That language will not help with tenant screening reports, however. So read on.

(2) Tenant screening reports (about 600 or more companies are involved nationally) will show that the tenant's name appeared in the court calendar as a "respondent." To get this removed, Brendan Enright suggests, "they can try to include language such as Petition consents to the expungement of any record of this proceeding from the database of any Tenant screening bureau or credit reporting agency. If the landlord consent, the tenant can send a letter requesting expungement (erasure) to the company along with a copy of the stipulation [agreement between the parties that is filed with the court]." He warns that "without that specific language, a tenant may not have grounds to base an appeal to the company."

As the video notes, the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires companies to remove inaccurate information when they are notified by the consumer. Mr. Enright notes, "Unfortunately, since the tenant screening report is solely a record that they have been taken ot court and they did appear and have a court date, the information listed on the tenant screening portion is not 'erroneous or incorrect,' and therefore outside the (small) enforcement realm of the FCRA. . . . With the Tenant Fair Chance Act, landlords must let prospective tenants know the names and addresses of any screening companies they use. That way, prospective tenants can possibly correct the record.

The video is well worth the half hour or so that it takes, and the speaking pace is slow enough that you can probably take most of it down as you listen and watch.

Consult a lawyer if you have questions!