Suing Your Landlord? You Could Find Yourself Blacklisted

Bankrate has an interesting article about tenant screening bureaus. They’re like credit reporting agencies, but they collect information from utility companies, state governments and the courts. More troubling, some tenant screening bureaus compile a database of people who have been involved in legal disputes with their landlords. What’s the trouble with that?

They don’t include information about the verdict. Just the fact that you were in a dispute with your landlord is enough to get your blacklisted. From Bankrate:

“There is no way to keep yourself out of a database,” says James B. Fishman, a New York-based attorney specializing in the rights of tenants and consumers, who represented Adam White, the tenant who brought the SafeRent suit. “If you try to enforce your rights under the law, then a landlord could retaliate and sue you, and that gets you blacklisted.” A spokesman for First American SafeRent declined to comment for this story.

Although the companies that engage in the creation of these blacklists are under considerable pressure to change the way they do business, what they are doing is technically not illegal. In fact, many municipalities, including the City of New York, routinely sell records of tenant-landlord disputes en masse to any tenant bureau that wants to buy them.

Like a credit report, reports from tenant screening bureaus can be inspected and disputed under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. FirstAdvantageSafeRent has instructions on their site to help you get a free report.

FirstAdvantageSafeRent
Tenant screening could cost you rental [Bankrate]
(Photo:Tom Simpson)

Comments

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  1. MickeyMoo says:

    Wouldn’t it make sense for a prospective tenant to get a copy of the report – have any errors corrected and then have a corrected copy available for prospective landlords?

  2. JustAGuy2 says:

    @MickeyMoo:

    No landlord in his right mind would accept your copy of the report, just as he wouldn’t accept your copy of a credit report. Too easy to doctor.

  3. MickeyMoo says:

    @JustAGuy2: Ahhh – hadn’t thought of that, good point

  4. savvy says:

    I’m a landlord and don’t use any type of tenant screening service (aside from credit reports and public records searches), but I can see the benefits of this type of screening. I would guess these are used primarily by the bigger companies, those that don’t have time to meet and vet every perspective tenant.

    I rely a lot on gut feel when it comes to tenants, and I’m usually pretty close. However, I can see where having something additional on paper is better legal protection when choosing one tenant over the other, gut feel doesn’t hold up well in court.

  5. elf6c says:

    They are invaluable for avoiding “professional tenants” who scam their way into an apartment without intending to pay, knowing how hard and long it takes in many states to evict them. Also, good at avoiding the type who repeatedly try to extort via litigation claims.

  6. cabedrgn says:

    I’ve been on the blacklist for years. I ended up on it due to toxic mold issues in an equity owned apartment. The killer part, we didn’t know toxic mold was in the apartment in 2002. We were having mold issues in the bathroom, called a cleaning company since the property manager told us it was ‘normal mold from not opening the bathroom window’ who then reported the issue to code enforcement (along with a few other problems) without telling us, our building got condemned later that month and we got ‘blacklisted.’ I didn’t find out till a year or so later moving into another apartment (we stayed with friends for about a year) and the lady told us that we were blacklisted by some reporting company and that we had to fight it out ourselves. We ended up just renting a house then buying one a few years later.

    I still remember the blacklist reason; “Tenant contacted code enforcement for known violation.”

  7. GearheadGeek says:

    The big problems are that a) they don’t include information about the verdict, and b) it’s not as well-publicized as credit reporting. Perhaps in tight rental markets like NYC, tenants know about this, but I’ve never heard of such. (Granted, I’ve only rented once in the US in the last 15 years, so I’m hardly an experienced tenant.) Fun day on consumerist… you CAN’T sue your builder, you SHOULDN’T sue your landlord… sounds like the best chance for justice might be making friends with a mobster as several suggested in the Tremont Homes posting.

  8. medic78 says:

    I’m on a blacklist. Found that out a few years ago when I tried to rent. I was refused due to a “prior noise problem”. The problem was the extraordinarily noisy downstairs neighbor. I complained multiple times about the daily music that was so loud that glasses dropped off my shelves. The only result I ever got was the neighbor complaining right back about noise from me. (I’m extremely quiet.)

    Fast-forward 4 years, and I get turned down due to that issue alone. No way to fight it, no way to explain it. I just get screwed. Luckily friends made room for me, and I later bought a house, but still…

  9. BStu says:

    While the service might be legal, I’d suggest that how landlords are using it ought to be. There shouldn’t be a disincentive to exercising your legal rights. There evidently need to be protections against the sort of “pretaliation” that this service encourages. If a person can’t get housing, you’re destroying their life. The stakes are too high to let the abuses stand with something like this.

  10. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @BStu: One more whine on this board along the lines of “there oughta be a laaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwww” and I think I’ll deposit my lunch on my shoes. One freedom we should, but don’t, cherish in this supposedly free country is the freedom to arrange to do business with whom and in the manner we prefer. That goes not only for customers but also for businesses.

    I’ll say it one time and I won’t say it again. The fact that a person or company has more money than you does not make it legitimate for you to make the government rob them for you. Sorry. Get a job and a little self-pride and stop wishing for a handout.

    Now about the corpse worms that keep this database, it’s their right to do so, just as it’s our right as tenants to keep and publicize a list of the fascists who do this. They don’t deserve our business.

    Yes, I was instrumental in calling the attention of the local rental community to a complex I lived in that “worked with” violent felons and sex offenders, without notifying the rest of the tenants. I pulled out my phone book and called as many apartment locator services as I could, and let them know about the felons, the noise, and the shootings. One year later, that complex was at barely fifty percent occupancy.

  11. Sonnymooks says:

    @speedwell:

    Now about the corpse worms that keep this database, it’s their right to do so, just as it’s our right as tenants to keep and publicize a list of the fascists who do this.

    You don’t have to publicize it, they advertise themselves pretty good, and try to make as many people know what they are doing as possible. I work for a real estate company and use tenant screening services all the time, you may read that article above and think its negative, but for folks in real estate, that looks almost like a sales pitch.

    In fact, I’d say if I handed that article out to a bunch of landlords, first advantage saferent would probably be getting a bunch of new customers, tenants aren’t their clients, landlords are.

    I should note (and I know I will get flamed for this), if I see any kind of legal action between the tenant and their landlord in the past, they are automatically rejected, no explanation asked for.

  12. kgrant says:

    My name is Kelli Grant, and I’m a reporter at SmartMoney.com. I’ve been working on a story about specialty reports (including those that cover tenant, medical and checking account issues). If anyone on the board has had problems renting as a result of a tenant screening report, I’d love to talk to you. Feel free to e-mail me at kgrant@smartmoney.com.

  13. rhombopteryx says:

    @Sonnymooks:

    “if I see any kind of legal action between the tenant and their landlord in the past, they are automatically rejected, no explanation asked for.”

    But you tell them that you’re rejecting them because of that record, right? (So they can fix it if it’s wrong, or if it’s the other Jim Smith.)

  14. Crazytree says:

    I have no issue with deadbeats being on a blacklist. If you’ve ever worked in property management… you know that there are professional deadbeats out there and the last thing you want is one living in your building on your dime. And that’s 99% of people on that list… evictees.

    That being said, retaliating against a tenant for exercising their legal rights is illegal in California. If I was denied housing by a landlord because of a prior meritorious suit against a landlord… I would consider that retaliatory… EVEN THOUGH the new landlord hasn’t rented to me for one day. There would be an issue of standing and the applicability of the statute’s language… but I think it would be worth a shot.

  15. Sonnymooks says:

    @rhombopteryx:

    Nope, or very rarely, see crazytree’s post to understand why (and I don’t even live in California).

    When I run the screening, it requires the social security number, and when I get the report, I match it to the application (along with other info) as a double check.

    In only rare cases do I tell the applicant that they were rejected because of a prior court case (it doesn’t even matter if they were right, my lawyer recommended I not even mention it or ask them about it). Those cases are when its a personal referral (i.e. a friend of mine, or a friend of a friend who has been vouched for).

    The scary part is, most applicant do not know that is the main reason they are being rejected (as long as I don’t violate discrimination laws, I can pretty much reject at will..i.e. I don’t like your shoes).

    I know other folks who will reject for ANY TYPE OF court case where the applicant has filed a lawsuit of any kind especially personal injury or the like, I don’t even go that far….but it has been recommended to me and I have taken it into consideration.

  16. FLConsumer says:

    Just curious, has anyone here tried suing the tenant screening cos for libel/slander?


    I know my last apartment place refused to renew my lease because I complained for 4 months about a non-functional stove, to the point where I finally went down to the office once a week (would have done more if I wasn’t so busy) and kept asking them to tell me when I could expect it to be fixed. I ultimately did get one of my attorney friends to get involved. It never went to court, but I ended up leaving there (I didn’t want to stay at that point), buying a very nice house, and the settlement that we came up with was that I wouldn’t sue them in court and they’d basically refund half of my past year’s rent (rent for the months the unit wasn’t fully functional + moving costs). Seemed like a fair deal to me! Having been away for a year now, I don’t know why I put up with as much as I did there. I love my house, problems & all. If something breaks, I pick up the phone and it gets properly fixed. Even the little things, such as good water pressure, noise-insulated walls, and a place to park my car add up to a huge quality of life improvement.

  17. rhombopteryx says:

    @Sonnymooks:

    Wait, so you’re willing to admit (on teh internets, no less) that you turn down prospective tenants based, at least in part, on information you get from one of these screening services, and that you do so without notifying them that that’s why you’re turning them down? I’m suspecting that since you’re not telling them, you’re probably also not notifying them of their appeal and report access rights either? You do know that the FBI, DoJ, FTC, state Attorney’s General offices, etc. that can enforce the Fair Credit Reporting Act can read the internet, and that your online admissions of civil/criminal violations can be used against you, right? I’m pretty sure there are lots of malpractice attorneys in your state who would be happy to help you – in light of your lawyer’s “advice.”

  18. Sonnymooks says:

    @rhombopteryx:

    Admit it on the internet? I did a hell of a lot more then admit.

    Credit rejections are disclosed (I actually do let you read your credit report), but rejections for having had past court issues or anything related to previous landlords is not.

    I am not under an obligation to tell them why they are rejected (they have numerious agencies they can report me to, and allow them to proceed with any investigation). If they are rejected because their credit scores are to low, then I tell them, due to the fact that that could be an error, and also, based solely on my judgement, if I feel they are still quality folks, I can give them an oppurtunity to bring in more paperwork (i.e. history of bills paid, etc).

    As for the DOJ, FBI, state attorneys office, they can kiss my rear end, and if they are reading this, I’m telling them to ahead and try, they enforce the laws, I comply with them. Prospective tenants are rejected for having litigation against a past landlord, or vice versa, they are rejected period. No FBI, No DOJ, No state attorney general, no DA, No Department of State (The state version, not the federal department) NO ONE can do anything about it.I disclose rejections based on credit (and several other things), but not anything regarding litigation. Outside of the credit issue, I am under no other disclosure obligations regarding rejection.

    If you want to laugh though, I have been griping that not enough is done to prevent discrimination, and because there isn’t enough of a disclosure law, other agents use the lack of disclosure about rejections to discriminate, if some agency could get off its fat rear end maybe they do something about that.

  19. thedreamingtree says:

    I have been denied housing due to disability income being my source of income. There is a landlord around here that when I have I called him to inquire about his properties, he has told me he would not rent to me because I was on disability, never mind that I made way more than 30% of the monthly rent. I don’t see how he could do this, and I wonder if I could sue him. I am a disabled vet who doesn’t require any special accommodations, so I don’t see why I wouldn’t win. Anyone have experience with that?

  20. Phuturephunk says:

    THEDREAMINGTREE: You’d probably be pretty successful but it really depends on the state that you live in and what kind of tenant laws they have.

    This kind of crap is pretty much just like the kind of power that co-op boards wield as far as who can and who cannot live in a building. They (co op boards) at least in NY don’t have to give any kind of reason as to why you were turned down and you have absolutely no legal recourse in the matter. I know buying a place is a completely different beast than renting, but its the same kind of opaque flim flam that just really burns me.

    I can understand if you, as a tenant, have had a long history of calling the lawyer for every little thing, but if you can show that, yeah, you griped, but yeah, the rent was ALWAYS there on the first..you should at least be entitled to an honest explanation as to why you were turned down for the place.

    That opens legal liability though, so I can see why lawyers would frown on giving a reason.

  21. Sonnymooks says:

    @thedreamingtree:

    I do not know where you live, but that definatly sounds illegal (it also sounds stupid for the landlord to admit it). It also may violate the disability act, along with other federal laws (no idea about state or local).

    Then again, I’ve seen some pretty brazen discrimination for illegal reasons, co-op boards are notorious for discrimination in NYC, its not even a well kept secret.

    One of my friends, when buying into a co-op described his meeting with the board as being interrogated by the KKK. Pretty much though, with renting, outside of credit issues, landlords are under no obligations to disclose why one is being rejected, and contrarie to popular belief, just because you utilize your constitutional rights, doesn’t mean there are no consequences.

    If anyone here at all has followed some of the lawsuits flying around regarding using the blacklists (aka “the registry”), the landlords aren’t being sued, and can’t be touched, the agencies or companies that do the screenings, are the ones that can.

  22. BStu says:

    @speedwell: The power of the landlord to deny housing is far greater than the power of the tenant to sit back and say “no fair” and hope someone listens. That kind of a power imbalance is precisely what we have laws to protect. One group can withhold a basic necessity without justified cause and the other group can only complain. That’s not fair and there are plenty of laws on the books to ensure fair commerce. If people are being denied housing for exercising their legal rights, that’s clearly something which needs to be stopped. I have far more trust in the power of the law than the power of “hey, stop it” posted on a website.