NEWARK, NJ – Today, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) met with housing advocates and New Jerseyans affected by tenant blacklisting to discuss legislation he will introduce this week to reform tenant screening practices.
Landlords in New Jersey and across the nation are using tenant screening reports prepared by third-party reporting agencies as a legal means to discriminate against potential tenants for simply asserting their legal rights. Sen. Booker’s legislation would amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act to enact stricter regulations on tenant rating agencies and provide tenants additional protections.
“Under no circumstance should a tenant fear discrimination for simply standing up for their right to safe and sustainable housing,” said Sen. Booker, who worked for years in Newark providing tenants legal services to help improve living conditions. “For far too long, landlords could utilize tenant screening reports as a means to target low-income tenants and prevent access to quality and affordable housing. This bill takes important steps to reform tenant screening practices by preventing landlords from unfairly penalizing tenants and providing tenants the necessary protections to ensure a fair and equitable screening process.
Unlike other credit reporting agencies, tenant rating agencies are largely unregulated under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), and currently lack restrictions to ensure accuracy or fairness. Sen. Booker’s legislation would amend FCRA to:
· Prohibit a consumer reporting agency from making a consumer report containing information from a landlord-tenant court or other housing court record unless the case to which the record pertains resulted in a judgment of possession in favor of the landlord;
· Prohibit a consumer reporting agency from making a consumer report containing information from a landlord-tenant court or other housing court record unless the case to which the record pertains occurred less than three years before the report is created;
· Require the creator of a consumer report that contains tenant-landlord information to make reasonable attempts to assure the accuracy of the record;
· Require any person who takes an adverse action with respect to a consumer report to provide the consumer with a free copy of the report;
· Require the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to create a centralized clearinghouse though which consumer may annually obtain a copy of their report from each tenant rating agency free of charge and correct any inaccuracies, and;
· Require the CFPB to conduct a study and submit to Congress a report on tenant rating agencies and their compliance under FCRA
Yanira Cortes, who participated in today’s discussion and has been subject to blacklisting, lives in subsidized housing in the Pueblo City Apartments in Newark with her four children. Ms. Cortes has experienced multiple health and safety issues in her home including rats, roaches, mold and the collapse of her bathroom ceiling. After withholding payment and appearing in court against her landlord for allowing these hazardous conditions to persist, Ms. Cortes has been blacklisted and unsuccessful finding somewhere else to live.
Paula Franzese, the Peter W. Rodino Professor of Law at Seton Hall University School, has extensively studied New Jersey's rental housing situation and worked with Essex-Newark Legal Services to create a year-long study of all the tenant-landlord cases in Newark.
“Our research revealed that tenants who fight back and prevail against landlords who rent unsafe and uninhabitable housing ultimately wind up losing because they become "blacklisted," thus unable to rent elsewhere,” said Franzese. “The legal system is supposed to give tenants a remedy against unscrupulous landlords, but by allowing tenant blacklisting it more often offers families a road to homelessness."
“This legislation would be a major victory for tenants: low-income renters, those who have been victimized by past landlords and those, like the many families we serve, who have diligently rebuilt their lives and are faced with an extremely limited number of housing options,” said Claas Ehlers, Family Promise President. “It simply asks that people be treated fairly and holds the companies that profit off of low-income renters accountable. We believe this will have a significant impact in giving more families and individuals the opportunity for adequate and sustainable housing they deserve. We applaud Senator Booker for leading this effort.
"On behalf of our members and the residents they serve, we want to thank Senator Booker for bringing attention to a new form of housing discrimination against lower income tenants,” said Arnold Cohen, Senior Policy Coordinator with the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. “We look forward to working with Sen. Booker and his colleagues in the U.S. Senate to end this practice and make sure tenants have safe, affordable homes."
“The practice of blacklisting tenants has taken decades of progress in tenants’ rights and turned that progress on its head,” said Matt Shapiro, New Jersey Tenants Organization President. “If tenants can’t stand up for their rights without the realistic fear of reprisal via blacklisting, then those rights don’t mean very much. We applaud Senator Booker’s proactive introduction of federal legislation that we hope will go a long way to rectify this horrible inequity by requiring these tenant reporting agencies to have accurate information that is not more than 3 years old, prohibiting them from having eviction records where there was no eviction granted or the result is being appealed, and giving tenants easy access to these records and the ability to challenge them.”
Attendees at today’s roundtable discussion included:
· Ada Lopez, blacklisting victim
· Yanira Cortes, blacklisting victim
· Professor Paula Franzese, Seton Hall University School of Law
· Connie Pascale, New Jersey Tenants Organization (NJTO)
· Mitch Kahn, Organizing VP, NJTO
· Arnold Cohen, Housing & Community Development Network of NJ
· Rick Robinson, Essex-Newark Legal Services of NJ, NAACP Newark NJ Housing Co-Chair
· Mike McNeil, Housing Chairman, NJ State NAACP
· Geleen Donovan, Executive Director, Family Promise of Union County
· Kyra Price, Vice President, New Jersey Solutions to End Poverty Soon (STEPS)
· Bill Good, Greater Newark HUD Tenants Coalition