Imagine the following scenario: You’re a doctorate student of 28 years old, with years of rental history under your belt. You’re smart about your payment schedule and you keep your debts in control. One day, it comes time to move and you’re looking for another apartment to begin the next chapter of your life in. You look around, and settle on a lovely apartment, and begin on the paper work. Part way through the process, however, you get a call to let you know that your application has been denied, and won’t be moved forward. You inquire as to the reason, and the answer shocks you: You’re on the city’s “renter blacklist,” and you’re going to have trouble finding anyone to rent you a property.
Sounds awful, and it is, but it’s also a reality for David Anton Johnson, a grad school student who was looking to rent an apartment in New York. Initially confused, David soon found out what had happened. See, a year earlier, David was placed in this blacklist after a landlord sued him. Unfortunately for David, the rental dispute wasn’t any fault of his own doing, but of bad bookkeeping throughout the building’s foreclosure. In fact, the case was dismissed long before it ever actually reached a court. That didn’t matter, however, and the filing of the suit in the first place was enough to mar David’s reputation in the eyes of New York landlords.
David says that the ordeal has led to months of headaches and paper work, and that he’s still battling with it on a daily basis.
How do these lists reach the hands of landlords, let alone even get created? Two large national companies, TransUnion and CoreLogic, pay state court systems across the country, at the price of $350 per week, to get access to their records. These housing cases are then used to create blacklists, access to these lists is then sold to landlords. TransUnion, when alerted to David’s case, basically passed the buck by saying that what landlords choose to do with the lists is their own choice, and should be used in conjunction with other resources to make tenant risk assessments. That said, denying potential “bad apple” renters is exactly why the lists are compiled in the first place.
These types of systems certainly have their place, as no landlord wants to end up holding the bill for a deadbeat tenant. Critics, however, say that the lists are too general and, as David’s case can attest to, don’t look into individual circumstances. These can lead landlords to making blanket decisions that unfairly affect applicants. According to David’s lawyer, these cases are hardly isolated; he says he receives calls from “blacklist victims” every week, some with more or less merit than others, but all with frustrating stories brought about as results of the list. Another tenant lawyer offered up that the blacklist approach was akin to “using a bazooka to kill a flea,” hinting at a too-large amount of collateral damage.