Courts to Stop Selling Names to Tenant “Blacklist”

On April 10, the state Office of Court Administration (OCA) announced that as of June 1 it will no longer sell the names of tenants sued in Housing Court to commercial data vendors, who have been using the information to create a “blacklist” of tenants. Potential landlords have used the list to refuse to rent apartments to prospective tenants, regardless of the circumstances of the Housing Court case. 

OCA will, however, continue to provide an electronic feed of the index numbers of cases and the updated status of those cases, without the names. The announcement came in a letter from Chief Administrative Judge Gail Prudenti to state Senator Liz Krueger (D-WFP Manhattan), who met with OCA on behalf of a coalition of elected officials, attorneys, and advocates, including Met Council, which has been working to address this problem.

“I applaud Judge Prudenti’s action to protect both New York’s tenants and the integrity of the court system,” Krueger stated.

“We are very pleased that the Office of Court Administration has agreed to stop selling the names of litigants sued in Housing Court to anyone, including tenant screening companies,” said Louise Seeley, director of Housing Court Answers (formerly known as the City-Wide Task Force on Housing Court), which counsels tens of thousands of unrepresented tenants each year on its phone hotline and at the information tables it maintains in each of the five borough Housing Courts. “This data is used, often unfairly, to deny people housing. This step allows New Yorkers access to the Housing Courts without fear of future discrimination.”

“Every week we hear from tenants who need housing but have been deprived of the opportunity to rent a vacant apartment just because their name appears on this list,” added Jenny Laurie, assistant director of Housing Court Answers.

With a virtual zero vacancy rate for affordable apartments, tenants have little or no bargaining power, and no legal recourse when owners refuse to rent to them based on their being on the blacklist. A bill is pending in Albany to make it illegal to refuse to rent an apartment to a prospective tenant solely because they had been a party in Housing Court. However, the bill presently has little chance of passage, given the control of the state Senate by the Republicans.

Jamie Fishman, an attorney who has been working on blacklist issues for years, cautions that OCA’s announced changes do not mean the blacklist is over. “OCA continues to provide a daily electronic feed of all new cases and updates on pending cases. While the feed will not contain the tenant’s name (and the addresses were stripped out several years ago), it’s not hard to match the index number to the tenant’s name via the public access computer,” he points out, warning tenants against a false sense of security.