Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

A Place to Call Home: Tenant Blacklisting and the Denial of Opportunity

Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

A Place to Call Home: Tenant Blacklisting and the Denial of Opportunity

Article excerpt

Introduction                                      662  I. The Practice of Tenant Blacklisting           666  II. In Their Own Words: Tenants' Stories         673   A. Yanira Cortes                                674   B. Ada Lopez                                    678   C. Maurice Smith                                679   D. Lori Dibble                                  681   E. Ebony Watson                                 682   F. Roger Ross                                   684   G. Elaine Piccione                              686  III. The Experience of Tenant Blacklisting:       Common Themes                               688  IV. Towards Meaningful Federal and State Reform  690  V. Finding More Comprehensive Solutions          693 Conclusion                                        697 

"Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter." (1) (Nigerian proverb)


Every day across the United States vast numbers of residential tenants face the specter of eviction. (2) In New Jersey, where it is estimated that thirty-seven percent of residents are among the ranks of the working poor, (3) one in six tenants faced eviction in the year ending June 30, 2016. (4) The majority of those tenants remain voiceless, without legal counsel or the opportunity to be meaningfully heard in housing court. (5)

A tenant faced with the prospect of eviction and without the effective assistance of counsel is at a particular disadvantage. (6) Without the requisite expertise needed to navigate the intricacies of housing court, she is apt to find herself lost, confused and summarily dispossessed. (7) The aims of fairness and justice are frustrated when, with the peril of eviction hanging in the balance, approximately ninety percent of landlords have legal counsel while ninety percent of tenants do not. (8) There are catastrophic personal and societal consequences of housing displacement and homelessness. (9) To add offense to the injury of eviction, tenants named in an eviction proceeding, no matter the outcome or the context, find themselves placed on damning registries collected and maintained by "tenant reporting services." (10) Tenants whose names appear on these so-called "blacklists" are often denied future renting opportunities, (11) stigmatized, (12) and excluded from the promise of fair housing. (13) At a time of continued rollbacks and dramatic cuts to housing voucher programs, (14) even as the need for subsidized housing continues to exceed supply (15) and waiting lists for affordable units often extend for years, (16) a candidate named on a dreaded blacklist is apt to suffer swift rejection of her housing application and relegation to "the back of the line." (17) In congested housing markets with wait times of three years or longer for subsidized rentals, (18) that tenant can find herself on a path to homelessness. (19)

That tenant blacklisting has been allowed to persist is emblematic of how powerless many tenants--and particularly public housing tenants--have become. The devastating consequences of eviction are compounded when its victims are rendered pariahs, shut out of future renting opportunities because their names appear on a list that functions as a modern-day scarlet letter. Blacklisting compounds the harms imposed by dwindling stocks of affordable rental units, leaving vast segments of the population without the assurance of a safe and enduring place to call home. (20)

Tenant blacklisting is but one manifestation of the many breakdowns in a system that was intended to assure the provision of safe and affordable rental housing for the poor. Its hardships are imposed against a backdrop of scarcity and need. Since 1995, the median cost of rent has risen between 70% and 100%, and yet the median income, particularly for the working poor, has remained largely stagnant. (21) Today, the majority of low-income renters spend more than 50% of their income on rent, with many spending in excess of 70%. …

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