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Courts Will Stop Selling Information that Landlords Use in 'Tenant Blacklists'

Some good news today for those of you who pick fights with your landlords, or who are harassed by them for no good reason: New York courts are going to stop selling your names to companies that make it harder for you to secure your next apartment.

This policy change in the New York State Unified Court System is going after a phenomenon called "tenant blacklisting," where landlords basically reject potential tenants whose names are on a list, which says they have been parties in housing court actions. These lists don't say what they've done, or what the situation was, or if the tenant brought the landlord to court, or visa-versa. It just says that the tenant was involved in housing court at some point, and because there's such a high demand for housing in the city, that's often reason enough for landlords to immediately reject an applicant. In some cases, landlords may even mistake a potential tenant for someone on the list with the same first and last name.

Basic housing court records have typically been sold to tenant screening companies that create lists, which landlords and real estate management agents use to filter out tenants. Now, State Senator Liz Krueger announced today, that information -- maintained by hundreds of tenant screening companies across the country -- will no longer be sold electronically, which Krueger hopes would greatly curb discriminatory practices.

Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti sent a letter to Krueger, who represents parts of Manhattan, informing her that the courts would stop these sales as of June 1st, 2012. Information regarding individual cases will still be available through the Unified Civil Courts' eCourts website and in the Housing Court clerks' offices, but those avenues would require interested parties to actively seek out the information.

Krueger and a coalition of electeds and tenants' advocates brought the issue to Prudenti's attention earlier this year.

"It has had a freezing impact on people's abilities to find new apartments," Krueger told the Voice today. "It has translated into people fearing going to housing court...because they are terrified of being blacklisted."

She said that the practice has particularly impacted low-income residents seeking apartments, since there is such a shortage of truly affordable housing in the city.

The fundamental problem, she said, is that tenants can end up on these lists having done nothing wrong. "No matter what the realities are about you, or your ability to pay rent, or your reputation as a good neighbor, none of that matters."

It has been a bit of a tough issue to tackle, in part because Krueger didn't want want to restrict access to public documents that must be available. "But how do you stop exploitation...and the totally flawed use of information?"

This latest move, she said, would make it so that landlords could not simply cross-check every person who wants an apartment with a centralized list.

Krueger said she plans on monitoring the impact of this policy shift to see if it stops the discriminatory practices. "It's outrageous, and it's been going on for years," she said. "We all need to watch what happens."

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