The New York State Office of Court Administration will no longer sell the names of tenants who have appeared in Housing Court starting June 1, Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti confirmed in a letter to Manhattan State Senator Liz Krueger made public today.
Tenant lawyers had dubbed the records a “tenant blacklist” unfairly used to deny housing to renters who had appeared in housing court. The state’s electronic database listed the names but not whether the tenant was the plaintiff or defendant, nor the outcome of the case.
Many landlords have long relied on the data, sold by the state to data companies, as a tool to screen tenants. For a $20,000 startup fee and $350 a week for daily updates, the data firms received a list of all courtroom activity that landlords paid for to look up prospective tenants’ court history.
Four years ago, state court administrators promised a group of concerned officials including Manhattan state senators Liz Krueger, Thomas Duane and Eric Schneiderman (now state Attorney General) that they would implement a series of reforms to curb misuse of the data. As The New York World first reported in January, none of these promises had been carried out.
Around that time, the court did remove addresses from the database but stopped short of removing names. Then–state chief administrative judge, Ann Pfau, informed Senator Krueger that any further restrictions on the data would best be addressed by the legislature.
But Judge Pfau’s successor sees matters differently. “Chief Administrative Judge Gail Prudenti thought this was the appropriate action to take as this has been a contentious issue for many years,” said Office of Court Administration spokesman David Bookstaver. “While the data was public, she was aware that it may have been misused.”
Officials and tenant advocates said they approved of the court’s decision. “The use of housing court data to promulgate blacklists is just another way massive real estate concerns have twisted the system to pressure tenants and benefit themselves,” Sen. Krueger said in a press release. “I applaud Judge Prudenti’s action to protect both New York’s tenants and the integrity of the court system.”
Tenant rating companies will still have access to public court data through other means. Often, such companies employ middlemen who access the public records in person at the courthouse. One of the largest background screening firms in New York, On-site.com, has relied on courthouse research since the OCA stopped providing address information roughly five years ago. Without addresses, it was impossible to prove whether any “John Smith” was the same “John Smith” applying for an apartment as the one who was housing court last year, Eric Basart, Director of Corporate Development at On-Site.com, told the New York World in January.
As of January, four firms, CoreLogic SafeRent, National Tenant Network and RentPort, Inc continued to purchase the OCA data despite the inability to confirm identities of tenants.