The New York World: State courts pressed to deter misuse of tenant records

Posted on January 24, 2012 by Michael Keller

A judge has refused to block New York State from selling housing court data to companies that promise to help landlords screen out troublesome tenants.

The decision late last year by State Supreme Court Justice Eileen Rakower of Manhattan has reactivated calls by some members of the state legislature to curb misuse of public records by companies that buy the information from government agencies. Tenant advocates have long complained that the information is used by some property owners to reject applicants for housing who merely asserted their right to a court hearing.

Four years ago, Manhattan state senators Liz Krueger, Thomas Duane and Eric Schneiderman (now state Attorney General) and others secured a promise from the state Office of Court Administration to better protect people’s personal information when it sells court records to commercial data vendors. Most of the promised measures have not been implemented.

“I am a bit horrified that the New York State Unified Court System said they were doing X in January 2008 and we’re here in January 2012 having a discussion about how they haven’t done any of this,” said Krueger. She says she has been meeting with advocates and other elected officials to discuss a renewed push for rules restricting the delivery and use of the data. “We have a new Chief Judge, we have a new administration, there’s a new group of players and it’s very high on my list to follow up.”

Legally, the state courts can sell the data, which includes tenants’ names and their court dates. Since 2008, the state courts have required that companies buying their data include a disclaimer on any resulting reports: “A lawsuit in housing court does not necessarily mean that a tenant owed rent or was evicted from an apartment.” Read more >>