What is the tenant blacklist? Can it prevent me from renting in NYC?
- Withholding rent to get repairs could result in being blacklisted
- There are ways to avoid having your name show up in court data
- You can file a complaint if you face bias for having a housing court case
If you're searching for an apartment in New York City, and you've had a case in housing court, you already have a strike against you. This is essentially what the tenant blacklist is—it’s not technically a list, but if you’ve been to housing court for any reason, your name may come up when tenant screening companies do background searches, which are then given to landlords as part of the rental application process.
The good news is since 2019, tenants who have had housing court cases gained 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 renters who face eviction or 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 September 2021. We are presenting it with updated information for October 2022.]
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. It is public information 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 renters 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 rent to force your landlord to do repairs. Withholding rent in order to get your landlord to fix your apartment is an important tenant right and 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. This essentially puts an end to the tenant blacklist. 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 out of state, 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 know a lawsuit is coming down the pipe 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. HP 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 so some screening companies won’t use data older than that.
What are my rights as a tenant?
Banning the use of publicly available data is problematic. For starters, it’s information that’s 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 your last two pay stubs, photo ID, the last three months of bank statements, the last two years of tax returns, and a letter of employment on employer letterhead stating your job title, length of employment, your salary and expected bonus. If you are self-employed you’ll need a letter from your CPA, 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.