The op-ed tells the story of what low-income renters face across New Jersey every day.
“When Newark resident Yanira Cortes’ landlord refused to address the crumbling ceiling, rats, roaches and mold plaguing her family in their rental home, she exerted her legal right to withhold her rent. Her landlord consequently brought multiple eviction proceedings against her.”
Although Cortes was able to avoid eviction, many low-income renters face eviction when they refused to pay rent for inhabitable apartments.
But Cortes did not escape unscathed. “Even though the court continually found in her favor, Yanira’s name was made available to nationwide tenant screening agencies that landlords use to evaluate potential tenants. As a result, Yanira has been effectively blacklisted from housing simply because she fought for her family. By trying to hold her landlord accountable, she unknowingly acquired an irremovable black mark on her record. She has been branded a “bad” tenant – no other landlord will rent to her, and she can’t find an affordable, safe place for her family to live.”
Tenant rating agencies are not under strong regulations “and as a result the information they provide to landlords is too often severely limited, without providing any context or even whether the court found in favor of the tenant.”
Write Booker and Rice, “Our legislation aims to protect tenants like Yanira and provide landlords with the most accurate and relevant information in order to ensure a fair screening process. Our respective bills would ensure that court records remain confidential unless a landlord receives a judgment of possession in his or her favor. Tenants like Yanira who prevailed in court would not be blacklisted just for appearing in a landlord-tenant case. Tenant screening reports would also not contain any information more than three years old. ”
Both pieces of proposed legislation would protect and increase access to affordable housing.
“Affordable housing is at the foundation of the American dream – every American deserves a safe and decent place to live. Renters like Yanira who are willing to stand up for their rights and stand up to slumlords deserve to be protected under the law.”