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Learn how the tenant blacklist works and what you can do about it

If you are a renter in New York City, you've most likely heard about the tenant blacklist. But what, exactly, is it? You may wonder if it's more myth than fact.

NYC landlords do indeed have tenant blacklists. You may be surprised, however, to learn how they work. It's important to understand how tenants get on these lists and what you can do about it.

How do people get on the blacklist?

One of the most common misconceptions about the blacklist is that landlords add problematic tenants to the list. What really happens is that names of tenants involved in housing court cases are sold to companies called tenant screening bureaus. These companies sell the data to landlords, much like credit screening bureaus sell financial information to other companies.

Whether tenants had a legitimate complaint against their landlords or whether they won their case is irrelevant. Their name is on the list, and that is all that matters to many landlords. Because the lists do not contain information about the cases, landlords only see that the prospective tenant was a party in a housing court case.

What can you do?

Fear of being on a blacklist keeps some people from filing housing court cases. If you are worried about this, you may have other options. You can start a housing part (HP) proceeding if your landlord violates the laws regarding building codes and making necessary repairs to the apartment or building. Typically, tenants who file HP proceedings are not put on the blacklist.

If you have a claim against your landlord but are concerned about the blacklist, speak with a tenants' rights attorney. They can review your case and advise you of your options, including whether to file a suit in small claims or the New York Supreme Court instead. These courts are not part of housing court, so tenant screening bureaus do not collect information about them.

Don't give up

Tenants' rights attorney Sam Himmelstein provides this advice: don't assume you'll never be able to rent again because you are on the blacklist. You may have to look harder or try smaller landlords, but people on the blacklist most often do find apartments.

Whether you have problems with your landlord or a tenant blacklist, the best way to learn about your rights is to speak with an experienced tenants' rights lawyer. Don't rely on advice from friends; the law can change quickly and what one person experienced years ago may not apply in your case.