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What is the tenant blacklist? Can it prevent me from renting in NYC?

  • Withholding rent to force your landlord to make repairs could land you on the tenant blacklist
  • If you have a lawsuit pending ask to be identified as John or Jane Doe instead of your real name
Freelance journalist and editor Evelyn Battaglia
By Evelyn Battaglia  |
December 27, 2023 - 9:30AM
NYC apartment buildings

Landlords can’t refuse to rent to you because you had a case in housing court—but it may prompt them to find another reason to reject you.


Searching for an apartment in New York City is never easy, and that's especially true if you've ever had a case in housing court, which can land you on the dreaded tenant blacklist, which refers to a background search performed by a renter screening company as part of the rental application process.

Being shunned by a prospective landlord for being on the blacklist is still a concern, but changes to New York's rent laws in 2019 gave renters who have had housing court cases an important protection: Landlords can no longer refuse to rent to you solely based on your name coming up in housing court data. For many tenants who face eviction or renters who are looking for a place they can afford, these changes are significant.

Read on for more about how the tenant blacklist impacts NYC renters.

[Editor's note: An earlier version of this article was published in October 2023. We are presenting it again as part of our winter Best of Brick week.]

What is the tenant blacklist? 

If you end up in NYC housing court for any reason, your name will typically come up in court data searched by tenant screening companies. This data is often called the tenant blacklist—even though it isn’t actually a list. Instead, this public information is gathered by companies who provide the details, along with credit reports, to landlords when they screen tenants during the rental application process.

How can you end up on a NY tenant blacklist?

One lasting result of the pandemic is that it pushed thousands of tenants into legal disputes with their landlords, so more New Yorkers are likely to have a housing court dispute on their rental history. 

Another reason you could end up in housing court is for non-payment of rent or because you purposely withheld it to force your landlord to do repairs. Withholding rent in order to get your landlord to fix your apartment is an important tenant right. What’s troubling about the data collected from courts is that it doesn’t point to who was in the right—it just indicates that you got into a legal tussle with a landlord.  

How do you get off a rental blacklist?

Landlords can’t refuse to rent to you if they find out you have a complicated tenant-landlord history. When this law changed in 2019, the intention was to ensure renters would feel confident bringing legal action against a negligent landlord. Landlords who use housing court information to screen incoming tenants face a fine of up to $1,000 if the attorney general investigates. 

If you think your name will come up in a NYC housing court search, either erroneously or not, there are still good reasons to try and get your name removed. Attorney James Fishman, a partner at Fishmanlaw Group, says it’s still possible a landlord will come up with some other reason to reject you if they see your name in housing court data. He also points out the law preventing discrimination for involvement in housing court only applies in New York state, so if you move elsewhere, your record is available to an out-of-state landlord.

If you’re a tenant who has gone to housing court to formalize an agreement with your landlord about moving out of an apartment, you may be able to prevent your name from appearing in court documents. According to tenant attorney Sam Himmelstein, a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, & Joseph (and a Brick sponsor), if the relationship between the former landlord and tenant is cordial, the terms of the settlement can include the condition that the landlord provide a letter of recommendation and a positive reference. This letter can be attached to future rental applications. 

How do you avoid the tenant blacklist?

If you have a lawsuit pending and have an attorney lined up, you may be able to reach out to the landlord's attorney and request they name you only as John or Jane Doe instead of your real name so the housing court information remains anonymous. Himmelstein says most landlords will agree to this. 

Instead of taking a case with a landlord to NYC housing court, another route is a tenant-initiated housing part action. This is where you sue your landlord for failing to comply with the law, particularly when it comes to building repairs. Housing part actions are fairly straightforward: A tenant fills out a form to request an apartment inspection for violations. The city sends out an inspector and, if there are violations, a landlord can face steep fines. If the court finds in the tenant’s favor, the landlord will be forced to make the repairs by a specific time. 

How long would housing court action stay on my record? 

Any case older than seven years—a time limit set by the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act—will not come up in a search of NYC housing court data. Fishman says there is also a New York statute that arguably has a five-year rule, meaning some screening companies won’t use data older than that. 

What are my rights as a renter? 

Banning the use of publicly available data is problematic. For starters, this information is accessible to anyone. Landlords still want to screen their tenants, and some may think the penalty of weeding out troublemakers is still worth the risk if they get caught. 

In fact, Fishman says landlords will use pretexts other than a housing court case to deny an apartment to someone and avoid violating the law. “As a result, these tenants cannot show that they’ve been damaged by an inaccurate credit report and therefore cannot sue under the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act,” he says. 

The law doesn’t allow a tenant to sue a landlord for using court data to deny an application, but the Office of the Attorney General has recently made moves to crack down on tenant blacklisting. A settlement against Clipper Equity, a real estate company that denied applicants with past housing court records, was the most recent effort to eliminate the practice. If you think you have been discriminated against in this way, you can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office. 

What information can NY landlords ask for? 

New York landlords and property managers have been forced to adjust their screening processes and should no longer request eviction or housing court information from the companies that provide this kind of data. It’s likely they are, instead, raising other standards, like minimum credit scores or income-to-rent ratios, to offset their risks.

Most NYC landlords require a photo ID, your last two pay stubs, three months of bank statements, and two years of tax returns, as well as a letter of employment on employer letterhead stating your job title, length of employment, salary, and any expected bonus. If you are self-employed, you’ll need a letter from your accountant, proof of any other funds like stocks or bonds, a reference letter from a previous landlord if applicable, and contact information for prior landlords. You may also need personal or business reference letters.

For more guidance, check out "Need to rent in NYC? Here's what to do before you even start looking at apartments"

Freelance journalist and editor Evelyn Battaglia

Evelyn Battaglia

Contributing Writer

Freelance journalist and editor Evelyn Battaglia has been immersed in all things home—decorating, organizing, gardening, and cooking—for over two decades, notably as an executive editor at Martha Stewart Omnimedia, where she helped produce many best-selling books. As a contributing writer at Brick Underground, Evelyn specializes in deeply reported only-in-New-York renovation topics brimming with real-life examples and practical advice.

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