Have perfect or good credit? Early or on-time payments? No evictions? You could still be denied residence at an apartment if you are a blacklisted tenant.
What is a blacklisted tenant?
A blacklisted tenant is one who is, for one reason or another, listed in a database that landlords share to weed out undesirable tenants. The landlords use this list to report issues with tenants including whether a tenant has complained a lot, had any disputes with landlords concerning damage to the premises, or if they have ever been evicted from failure to pay rent. This blacklist has been known to harm the chances of unsuspecting apartment seekers renting a respectable place. There is no field on this blacklist that indicates whether or not this information is factual “… Landlords just use these screening services as an easy way to reject a number of people. And they don’t want to spend the time to find out whether they’re properly rejecting them or not,” says David Pallack of Neighborhood Legal Services.
Who maintains tenant blacklists?
There are a number of tenant blacklist firms. Some of the largest are U.D. Registry, The Registry, RentCheck, and TeleCheck. According to a 1989 article from Whole Earth Review:
U.D. Registry, in Van Nuys, CA, has over 2 million tenant records on file, information gleaned from housing-court records and provided by irate landlords. For less than $15, UDR reports to any landlord any eviction proceedings, or statements from former landlords against a given tenant. The effect of UDR has been to blacklist tenants who attempt to exercise their rights; a lawsuit attacking UDR has been pending in California courts for more than two years.
UDR’s clients control 90 percent of the rental market in southern California, and the company performs over 250,000 searches per year, according to Harvey Saltz, the company’s owner. Saltz says he lets tenants place statements in their files explaining “their side” of the story, but many of UDR’s victims aren’t even aware of the company’s existence. Indeed, some of UDR’s most-publicized victims have been people who just happened to match “bad tenants” with similar-sounding names that were in UDR’s database.
The Registry, another tenant screening service, has a database of a million records for the Washington, D.C. area. Other services operate in Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington, RentCheck, a division of TeleCheck, has files on renters across the country.
What if I have good credit?
Being blacklisted is different from having a poor credit score. Credit scores are based on your finances, debt repayment, and overall indebtedness and maintained by the “Big 3” credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. Tenant blacklist record data from court proceedings and from landlords and are maintained by smaller private companies such as U.D. Registry. While tenant screening blacklists also may use information from credit bureaus, they do not maintain the data (they just use the information provided by one of the Big 3). Tenant screening services do, however, maintain tenancy history, including a landlord’s reports regarding whether a tenant paid late and if the late payment resulted in an eviction. Even if you have good credit, there’s no guarantee that you are not blacklisted. According to The Daily Breeze, “For tenants, an eviction notice can carry the same weight as a bad credit rating.” If you have an eviction, chances are high that these companies know about it.
How do I know if I am one?
In addition to U.D. Registry, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion sell information to landlords. Instead of relying on your landlord to report the eviction, these companies hire people to go to the courts and look up cases and put the information on the computer database. If an eviction action was started, it becomes a bad mark for the unwary tenant whether the case was dismissed or the tenant won. U.D. Registry charges a fee just to check into a prospective renter’s name. The fee is paid for through the rental application which they collect whether or not the renter is accepted at the property. Individuals must also pay a fee to check their personal rental credit. If you find yourself on the blacklist, you will find it very difficult to remove yourself or even find out who placed you on the list.
Help, I’m blacklisted! What do I do now?
UDR Consumer Disputes
PO Box 9140
Van Nuys, CA 91409
According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, UDR then has 30 days after receiving your request, and if they have not done everything the law requires them to do, then you may file suit against them. Intended to promote accuracy fairness, and the privacy of personal information assembled by Credit Reporting Agencies (CRAs), the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) helps regulate the use of personal information by private businesses. If you have been a victim of blacklists, you have a right to sue and earn a minimum of $10,000 if the information is false or misleading.
But before you sue, one final solution is to talk to the landlord who reported the information. Sometimes mistakes are made. Let’s say a landlord mistakenly sued you for eviction and later dropped the suit. This eviction suit is still a matter of public record and may be caught by the tenant screening companies who could then report the information to future landlords. Obtaining a letter from the original landlord explaining that the eviction suit was mistakenly filed and dropped would provide you with strong proof to counter the tenant screening service. If necessary, you could show this letter to prospective new landlords along with your letters of reference from previous landlords.