Once upon a time, this city's tenants were terrorized by the so-called tenant "blacklists," which named every tenant sued in housing court for eviction and were used by landlords to help screen prospective renters. Though these lists still exist today, they stopped identifying tenants by names and addresses in 2012. But note that the dreaded blacklist has never truly died, and private companies continue to hire people to cull that identifying information. Pay your rent on time, and never complain about the leak in your kitchen. That brown water is simply repainting your ceiling.
The tenant blacklists—both the official and private versions—are no great secret, and earlier this year news outlets reminded New Yorkers that a Housing Court case could leave them homeless. Today, the Times dug into the blacklist again, and their story is well-worth a read, if just to familiarize yourself with what will happen if and when your landlord takes you to court.
The gist of the blacklist is the following: the New York State Office of Court Administration (“OCA”) sells data regarding housing court eviction cases to private companies, who in turn sell the data to landlords. That data does not exclude tenants who win their suits, and as the New York State Bar Association has noted:
TSB reports are often inaccurate, incomplete, or misleading—or all three. For example, if a tenant is awarded a 90% rent abatement because of deplorable conditions in the home, a TSB will report the disposition of that case simply as a "judgment" against the tenant for the remaining 10% of the rent. That makes it appear as though the landlord won the case when, in fact, the tenant won the case.
OCA has made it more difficult for landlords to blacklist prospective renters by omitting names from the lists, but housing court documents are public record, and landlords are still able to match the identifying index numbers to tenant names. The Times mentions three companies that continue to pay OCA for these lists— CoreLogic SafeRent, TransUnion Rental Screening Solutions and ALM.
The Times notes that these kinds of screenings do protect landlords from tenants who will skip out on the rent or sublet a property illegally, and on the bright side, bad landlords also get put on a list, as long as tenants report the violations. Avoid renting from those slumlords lest you find yourself battling before a judge over the rent reduction you took thanks to your apartment's lack of hot water. It's all a vicious cycle.