New York renters live in fear of landing on the infamous tenant blacklist, a document that's sold to real estate companies with information about court disputes between landlords and tenants. It's not a huge surprise, then, that a lot of brokers seem to conveniently "forget" to mention to prospective renters that the landlord will be checking into their background, including whether or not they've earned a spot on the list.
According to a new report from the Department of Consumer affairs, reported by the New York Daily News, agents at nearly one quarter of the city's real estate offices neglected to take the appropriate steps to inform tenants about screenings and background checks, which could potentially prevent them from finding an apartment.
Legally, agents are required to tell renters that they're conducting background checks, and inform them if they lose the apartment based on the information. This gives tenants the chance to contest the information or explain themselves—a necessary part of the process, given that even a court dispute in which you won against a landlord (or someone sued you by mistake) can earn you a spot on the blacklist. "New Yorkers should not be blacklisted from renting an apartment without knowing why or being able to correct details that might be inaccurately reported," said the Consumer Affairs Commissioner in a statement.
Still, it's safe to assume that prospective landlords will be snooping into your past rental history, whether your agent bothers to mention anything or not. But if you have somehow wound up on the blacklist, there are ways to work around it. For one thing, smaller landlords are far less likely to opt for these types of background checks than larger management companies, and even if they do, disclosing your past issues up front can go a long way towards smoothing over any skepticism. For a small fee, companies like CoreLogic, TransUnion or On-Site will let you know if you are, in fact, on the list, and you can ask them to include the results of your case (i.e. if you won against a bad landlord), or, if it's older than seven years, have them remove it from the database entirely. (For more tips on this process, check out our guide here.)
It may come as cold comfort when virtual strangers are nosing into your legal history, but don't forget, two can play this game: you can (and should) do background research on the landlord, too.