Bill will give tenants the chance to dispute wrongful screening reports

City Hall, May 20, 2009 – At today’s Stated Council meeting, Speaker Christine C. Quinn, together with Council Member Daniel R. Garodnick and Consumer Affairs Committee Chair Leroy Comrie, introduced the Tenant Fair Chance Act, legislation designed to assist renters in ensuring their tenant history is accurately reflected in reports that landlords use to determine whether or not an applicant is accepted.

Currently, screening companies purchase data from housing court that they use to compile tenant screening reports for landlords looking to vet prospective tenants. These reports include information on actions taken against a prospective tenant in housing court. Unfortunately, often these screening reports lack meaningful detail regarding the reasons why the tenant was in court or the final decision in the case.

Many landlords will see a housing court action for non-payment and refuse to rent their apartments to a prospective tenant without considering underlying circumstances. For example, if a tenant takes part in a rent strike (when tenants will pay rent into an escrow account rather than to their landlord) to protest deplorable living conditions and is sued in court for payment of back rent, no mention is made of this context in the report. Additionally, the reported information may not even be about the prospective tenant, but may be connected to another tenant with the same or similar name.

“Prospective tenants across our city have been denied by landlords for the simple fact that their tenant screening report shows a housing court action,” said Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “This broad net has snared people who previously had little chance to set the record straight because they didn’t know exactly why they were being declined. By giving tenants a complete understanding of the factors that go into a prospective landlord’s determination, we can make sure we’re giving people a fair chance to get a home they can afford.”

In order to add a measure of clarity to the reports and give prospective renters the chance to ensure any information a landlord receives about their tenancy is accurate and complete, the Tenant Fair Chance Act will require:

Disclosure – Any landlord, management company or broker who uses a tenant screening report will have to disclose the name of the agency providing a copy of the report, giving the tenant the chance to dispute any inaccuracies directly with the agency;
Signage – All users of tenant screening reports will be required to a post sign telling tenants that under federal law, they are entitled to one free copy of their report per year from each tenant screening agency;
Violations – Any user of tenant screening reports caught violating this policy will be subjected to an initial fine of no more than $500. Subsequent violations will be no more than $750.

“Tenants need to be able to exercise their rights in court without fearing that it will prevent them from ever renting another apartment,” said Council Member Dan Garodnick, who authored the Tenant Protection Act of 2007 and introduced the Tenant Fair Chance Act. “If simply asserting those rights will land tenants on a do-not-rent list, then we need to make sure that they know when these lists are being used and how to correct inaccurate information on them.”

“I want to applaud the Speaker and my colleague, Dan Garodnick, for their leadership on this important issue,” stated Deputy Majority Leader Leroy Comrie. “In the current state of the economy, we should be doing all that we can to ensure that prospective tenants have a fair opportunity to obtain housing. Similar to having the ability to clear one’s credit history, tenants should also have the ability to access their renting history and address any discrepancies. This legislation simply levels the playing field between landlord and tenant so that both parties have a clearer understanding before entering into a contract. I look forward to holding a hearing on this issue and urge my colleagues to pass this legislation.”