Having just moved into a new apartment this weekend, I couldn’t help but think how many wonderful and interesting things there are to do in this world that beats the hell out of the mind-numbing mundanity of moving. It sucks so much, in fact the only thing that sucks more than the process of moving is finding a place. It’s a task that I’m sure takes its toll on everyone who has to do it, so I’m sure as heck glad that as far as I know, California doesn’t keep a list of renters involved in eviction litigation like New York.
Not that I’ve ever been sued in a landlord-tenant case before. Seriously, I haven’t. To all potential landlords out there who I may have to rent from one day, know that I’m not joking. Because I don’t want to end up like James Whelan, the tenant who is suing in the link above.
This was news to me, but apparently in some states, like the aforementioned New York, the government keeps a running tally of all tenants that have been sued for eviction. The list is open for viewing to the public and, in theory, may sound like a good idea. Landlords are given notice of potentially bad tenants so that they can avoid renting to people who habitually cannot make their rent. These “professional tenants” can often end up causing landlords to lose thousands of dollars in uncollectable rent. The rub is that the list includes all tenants who have been sued for eviction, even the ones who won their eviction cases against their landlords.
You can probably see the problem here. If a vindictive landlord wants a tenant out and wrongfully sues to evict him or her, the innocent tenant ends up on the list regardless of whether or not they were in the wrong. Even if the tenant wins the case, chances are the landlord won’t be renewing the tenant’s lease and so when the tenant goes apartment hunting, he or she may find they’ve been blacklisted by landlords who see the tenant’s name on the list. That’s the situation Whelan, a New York renter, was trying to avoid by preemptively suing to keep his name off the eviction litigation list. Should he win his lawsuit, it would likely stop New York from continuing its practice of naming names.
But, for anyone renting in New York or any state with a similar practice, Whelan’s lawsuit probably does little to relieve your anxiety. The fact of the matter is that the practice itself isn’t necessarily illegal or unconstitutional per se. Every time anyone files any lawsuit in America, both parties’ names are listed for public viewing. Such general docket information has always been public information and nowadays is even usually viewable online. Certainly the details of people’s lawsuits can always be sealed with both parties and the court’s consent, but generally the names of the parties and indeed the existence of a lawsuit will still remain in public record.
However, this fact doesn’t make the tenant eviction litigation list from feeling any less sleazy and exploitative. Most states that have such lists in place usually sell it to private companies who often resell it to members in the real estate industry who in turn use the list’s information for tenant screening purposes. There’s definitely money to be made for states that have these tenant eviction litigation list, so it’s probably likely that the practice won’t be going away without a fight.
But for now, what can you do if you find yourself in an oh-so-precarious situation ala Whelan’s? It’s sad to say, but short of trying to change the law like Whelan is doing, there’s probably not much you can do other than hope for the best and try to keep on your landlord’s good side. It’s hard enough finding a good place to rent when you have good credit and a litigation-free record. It took me a little over a month to finally find my new digs; I can only imagine how long it would’ve taken me if I had to deal with having to explain why my name was on a don’t-rent list (again, potential future landlords, please note I have a perfect credit rating and have never been evicted in my life).