BLACK LISTS ARE ILLEGAL
as they should be except, perhaps, for drugs
By Larry Lick, RHOL
N ew members of landlord associations often call the office with an emotional plea to put some tenant on "a list" so that some other poor landlord doesn't have to suffer with what they just went through. Then they unburden themselves with gory details about drug parties, junk all over the yard, a trashed house, broken windows ... and no money.
The distraught landlords are usually asked: "did you evict them? If so, we probably already have them on the eviction list. ( From court document s listing landlord tenant actions for eviction) If they were not evicted through the court, we cannot put them on any black list."
"What?" They ask incredulously, "Why not?"
"Because black lists are almost always illegal, as they should be ."
Then it should be explained: "imagine if you got into a dispute with a local mechanic over work he performed on your vehicle and you refused to pay him until the work was performed satisfactory. Rather than taking you to court to collect, where both sides would have an opportunity to tell their side of the story, he just put you on a mechanic's black list. Then the next time you needed work done, no one would help you. Rather unfair, right?"
Although most landlord/tenant horror stories may be legitimate, (we assume that the vast majority of landlords are business people who just want the property taken care of in a reasonable manner and the rent paid on time) there could be that occasional misunderstanding. Perhaps a personality conflict; perhaps a tenant had an affair with a landlord's spouse; or in the most extreme and unlikely case, there could even be a bad landlord . As a result, landlord associations should never, never, maintain a tenant black list.
There are however, perfectly legal list s available through the courts and credit bureaus that are very valuable tool s to help screen out bad tenants. Consumer credit files are available as credit reports. Criminal records, registered Sex offender s and evictions are also available in many states.
When a landlord evicts a tenant, for any reason, or a tenant establishes credit, or is convicted of a crime, it becomes a public record .
Eviction information includes: tenant name, landlord name, whether the eviction is for nonpayment ( NP) or termination of tenancy, (TT) the date and case number. The list makes no judgment as to who was right or wrong in the case, the data only reports the public record as posted by the court. Compiling and maintaining that kind of eviction information for your own area takes a great deal of time and effort, but it is perhaps the most valuable screening tool a landlord can have. Compiling such a database is, even by itself, an excellent reason for forming your own landlord association.
The data base can be maintained at the Association office, but it should be backed up in at least two other locations as well because it rapidly becomes very valuable . Members are then able to call in with the name of a potential tenant and have the eviction records searched in seconds, at a nominal fee. Another alternative is to allow members to download the database to their own computer system. T he list can also be periodically alphabetized and printed so that hard copies can be made available to members at monthly meetings.
When you look at a printed list of evictions for the first time, it becomes immediately apparent that the same names appear over and over. Bad tenants repeat their bad behavior and are repeatedly evicted. It also becomes obvious that there are a great many "amateur" landlords who do not properly screen tenant applicants. So bad guys, with the cash they didn't pay their current landlord, always find some new fool who is anxious to take their money.
Another thing that jumps out at you from the list, is the number of times a landlord will take the same tenant to court. That happens because in an eviction for nonpayment the tenant can still come up with the money anytime before a writ for possession is executed , in most states , and the landlord must accept the money and start all over. They sometimes go to court four or five times before the landlord finally gets an eviction.
A Summary Proceedings List is one of any landlord association's most valuable assets because it is an invaluable tool to help screen for good potential tenants. Please remember however, it is just one tool. Professional landlords understand that there may be a legitimate explanation for an eviction, or an unpaid bill that shows on a credit report, or even a former landlord with a bad reference.
All available information should be used in conjunction with a personal interview before you ever make a decision to turn your very valuable investment over to a stranger's care.
NOTE: There is a strong argument that any information derived from the "public record" can be published without liability. In fact, some associations now keep a list of any tenant even charged with a drug offence, and apparently do so with impunity. Ron Schmitt, Vice President of The Tompkins County, NY, Landlords Association, told us that they had one of the local judges as their speaker and the topic was evictions for drug houses. According to her, black lists are not illegal. You can visit their page at: http://www.LandlordsAssociation.com