Senator Cory Booker Outlines Efforts to Reform Screening Practices

Senator Cory Booker Proposes Legislation to Halt by Tenant Blacklisting

On July 18, 2017, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) met with housing advocates and New Jerseyans affected by tenant blacklisting. He discussed 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 Senator Cory 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.

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.”

Attendees at the roundtable discussion included:

Press Release from Senator Cory Booker

WNYC News Coverage

WNYC Coverage of the Meeting

NJ Spotlight Coverage

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