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Damning tenant blacklist may be reformed under new legislation

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Councilman Ben Kallos wants to reform the tenant blacklist database

The dreaded tenant blacklist that debriefs landlords on whether prospective renters have appeared in housing court is still making it hard for those on the list to rent apartments in New York City. Now, Councilman Ben Kallos has introduced legislation to the City Council’s Consumer Affairs Committee that would require the blacklist to paint a fuller picture of why certain tenants have ended up in housing court, the Times reports. Unsurprisingly, things aren’t always as they seem on the database.

According to housing lawyers cited by the Times, the blacklist is a minefield of errors that inhibits those whose names have landed on it from finding apartments. What’s currently missing from the database is any distinction between tenants who won their cases in housing court or who legally withheld their rent because of subpar living conditions. Under Kallos’s legislation, these important bits of information would be added to the list. "No one should be condemned to being homeless just because they were in housing court," Kallos says.

The blacklist is compiled by tenant-screening database companies who pull from housing court records. Some landlord advocates describe the list as "very useful" to owners who "might be hurt by a pattern of a tenant withholding rent for frivolous reasons." Meanwhile, housing advocates claim its use exacerbates New York City’s affordable housing crisis by making it harder for the poor to rent apartments.

Previous efforts to reform the process by which tenants end up on the blacklist have largely gone bust. In 2012 the New York courts stopped selling tenant information to landlords, instead opting to only put case numbers on the documents. But some companies would still comb through the documents to find tenant names and add them to the blacklist, so that was over by 2014. The Times notes that a man hired to do that job recently sat at a table in Manhattan housing court, transcribing names and addresses, while watching Game of Thrones.