While all these strategies are helpful if you end up in a court battle, it's critical to know that if you are sued by a landlord, you can be blacklisted when you try to rent another apartment. Housing Court sells the names of all tenants who are involved in Landlord Tenant proceedings to background checking agencies.
When a prospective tenant submits a rental application for a new apartment, landlords now routinely run a background check. They avoid renting to tenants they think may be a source of legal difficulties. This effectively "blacklists" and disqualifies tenants who've been to court with a Landlord Tenant case, even though there may have been an error, or the tenant won, or the suit was dismissed. If you're on the blacklist, it can be much more difficult for you to rent an apartment in the future.
Although it may be unfair, blacklisting is in fact legal at the present time. There's been litigation challenging the existence of the list, which has resulted in a requirement that the outcome of every suit be stated. However, as a practical matter once you're on the blacklist, a landlord is unlikely to care about the reason. Many won't accept you as a tenant.
Avoiding the blacklist is important for every tenant, but is vital if you're living in an apartment not protected by rent stabilization or rent control laws, because your lease renewal is not guaranteed. If you get in a fight, you probably won't be renewed and will ultimately have to find a new home.
There is a strategy that works around the blacklist difficulty. If you know your landlord will sue you on grounds for which you have a legitimate defense, your attorney can initiate an action in New York State's Supreme Court to block your landlord from starting a case in Housing Court. Tenant background checking agencies currently don't buy names of litigants from the Supreme Court. Your attorney can ask the Supreme Court to restrict your landlord from Housing Court, and exposing you to blacklisting. Your case can then be handled in Supreme Court. This strategy can work, however it's more expensive because legal fees are generally higher for cases outside of Housing Court.
If you're blacklisted, you may have to pay substantial rent in advance, or give your new landlord a much higher security deposit, to get into a new apartment.
Suing a landlord must always be a very carefully considered decision these days. Is the potential gain worth the risk of blacklisting? What are your chances of victory? Only an experienced Tenants' attorney can assist you in making intelligent, strategic decisions.
Blacklisting can be especially treacherous when you're dealing with a difficult landlord, so be wary. McAdams Law litigated for a tenant in a luxury high-rise, who complained about defective elevators and oil spills. In retaliation, the landlord did not renew his lease. The firm raised the defense of retaliatory eviction and bought time for him to move out.
If you are having or even anticipate trouble with your landlord, the quicker you consult a Tenants' attorney, the safer you may be. In the case just mentioned, McAdams Law later discovered that the landlord had previously put the tenant on the blacklist by suing him without notification. In this instance, had the client consulted the firm sooner, it might have been possible to negotiate with the landlord, and to have avoided the subsequent lawsuits and blacklisting.
The lesson: If at all possible, stay out of Housing Court.
The black mark against your name that can make it hard to rent anywhere… You get into a dispute with your landlord and go to court. Maybe you resolve your conflict, maybe you don't. But when you finally move out and look for another place to live, you find that other landlords won't accept you as a tenant, or demand a significantly larger security deposit. Why does that happen?
The reason is that background checking agencies obtain public record information that identifies tenants who have been involved in Housing Court cases. Today, most landlords run a background check on lease applicants before they rent to them. If the tenant screening report shows that you were in court with your landlord, for that reason alone they are very unlikely to rent an apartment to you. This can make finding a new place to live difficult, time-consuming and expensive.
How do you escape this trap? If possible, stay out of Housing Court. This raises several considerations…
To begin with, you're in a stronger position in a conflict with your landlord when you have professional legal representation. An experienced Tenant Rights lawyer is sometimes able to negotiate a resolution on your behalf, without even going to court. Landlords generally take the tenant who has an attorney more seriously, and may be less inclined to litigate.
Tenant Rights lawyer Jeff McAdams has over 20 years experience in representing tenants successfully against their landlords. He has often helped tenants to negotiate resolutions to problems first, so they could stay out of court and avoid blacklisting.
Unfortunately, not all disputes with the landlord can be resolved without litigation. It may be that your valuable rights can only be protected by court action. In that case, there's another approach…
The State Supreme Court Solution. New York State Supreme Court does not identify litigants to tenant screening agencies. So if you take your case to the New York State Supreme Court first, and thereby stay out of Housing Court, you avoid having your name sent to background checking agencies.
This can be a more costly approach in terms of legal fees. However, depending on the facts of your case, it might circumvent what can be larger expenses and difficulties long-term, associated with blacklisting and finding new living accommodations.