Online Renter Blacklists

You heard me right, there are now lists on the internet that landlords can refer to to see if a prospective tenant is a good candidate.  One such list is do not rent to dot com.  It appears that any landlord can submit unfavorable information about a past or present tenant for free, but in order to access the blacklist records, you need to pay $29.99.

The information that a landlord can enter onto the site include social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, renter’s full name, amount of bills owed, pictures of damage and a 4000 character comment section.  NBC12 News reports that there is nothing illegal about landlords participating in this website.  However, there are plenty of consumer advocates who disagree.  Landlords could violate local, state, and national Fair Housing Laws in their comments.  And although this was the reason this article was sent to me (I’m a certified and state licensed fair housing instructor), I see a much bigger and easier trap of violating the Virginia Landlord Tenant Act.

The Virginia Landlord Tenant Act clearly states in 55-248.9:1

Confidentiality of Tenant Records that no landlord or managing agent shall release information about a tenant or prospective tenant in the possession of the landlord to a third party unless:

1. The tenant or prospective tenant has given prior written consent;
2. The information is a matter of public record as defined in § 2.2-3701;
3. The information is a summary of the tenant’s rent payment record, including the amount of the tenant’s periodic rent payment;
4. The information is a copy of a material noncompliance notice that has not been remedied or, termination notice given to the tenant under § 55-248.31 and the tenant did not remain in the premises thereafter;
5. The information is requested by a local, state, or federal law-enforcement or public safety official in the performance of his duties;
6. The information is requested pursuant to a subpoena in a civil case;
7. The information is requested by a contract purchaser of the landlord’s property; provided the contract purchaser agrees in writing to maintain the confidentiality of such information;
8. The information is requested by a lender of the landlord for financing or refinancing of the property;
9. The third party is the landlord’s attorney; or
10. The information is otherwise provided in the case of an emergency.

Who has to abide by the Virginia Landlord Tenant Act?

The VRLTA covers most residential rental agreements. Several types of properties are exempt from the Act, including single-family rental houses where the landlord owns and rents ten or fewer such houses.

  • Apartments: Generally, apartments are covered by the VRLTA regardless of the number of apartment units the landlord rents (see exemptions to the VRLTA in Section 55-248.5).
  • Motels/Hotels/Manufactured Homes: Motels and boarding houses are covered by the VRLTA if the tenant lives in such residence for more than 30 days. Some provisions of the VRLTA protect tenants in manufactured home parks.
  • Public Housing and Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8): Landlord-tenant relations in public housing, Housing Choice Vouchers or Section 8 housing, and other federally subsidized housing are regulated by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The VRLTA applies to such rentals as long as it is consistent with federal regulations. Tenants in subsidized housing may gain certain rights from the VRLTA in matters that federal regulations do not cover.
  • Single Family Housing: The VRLTA applies to single-family dwellings if the owner owns more than ten dwellings. However, if the owner owns more than four single-family residences or condominium units located within a city or any county having either the urban county executive form (Fairfax) or county manager plan of government (Arlington), the VRLTA applies. Single-family dwellings may be covered under the VRLTA if there is a clause in the lease that states the VRLTA will apply.

Anytime you particpate in an online forum that could negatively impact another person, you need to be very careful and make sure that you are not violating law.  Confidentiality is a serious matter.  Filling out the forms on this particular website is only opening landlords up to liability and potential lawsuits.  The benefits do not outweigh the risks.

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12 Responses to Online Renter Blacklists

  1. And let me guess — the tenants aren’t aware that they’ve been listed on the site, nor is there any way for them to find out short of paying the fee or asking a friendly landlord. And, of course, there’s no way to rebut or correct the information.

    Sounds like not only a VRLTA problem, but a potential libel suit. I bet some smart lawyers are buying access to it so they can drum up clients!

  2. Tony Arko says:

    Leases and applications usually come standard with a clause that satisfies number 1 of the listed exceptions. Therefore the landlord can share the information. Plus, most landlords aren’t going to take the time to report a bad tenant unless they really are bad. My bet is this is much ado about nothing.

  3. Tony – the clause that you are referring to doesn’t give the landlord the absolute right to disclose just anything about the tenant. There are still rules. You can disclose the rental amount, the length of the lease, and whether you would rent to them again. The clause does not allow a free for all.

  4. Tony Arko says:

    My fault Sarah. I didn’t know you had access to every lease and application signed by every prospective tenant in the state of Virginia and knew exactly what the prospective tenant had agreed to when they signed both the applications and leases. That must be a huge database you have.

  5. Ok, you two… Don’t make me pull this car over!

  6. Tony – no need to be snide. For an issue that you don’t think is a big deal, your feathers are certainly ruffled. I have looked at many applications and leases. My husband and I have owned and managed 10 rental properties and have had to go through eviction proceedings 6 times, including standing before a judge and answering to the VRLTA. We have given countless rental referrences. When I was first being trained as a Fair Housing Instructor I was put in charge of researching and teaching Property Management. I have an attorney that I consult on a fairly regular basis regarding the VRLTA. Yes, I can say that I do understand how the VRLTA works. I also feel it would be very rare for anyone to agree to have their SS# or driver’s license# published on the internet (or even partial #s). Even if they did agree, I would not want to take on the liability of actually posting the information on the internet. This coupled with a 4000 character synopisis of why a landlord doesn’t want you to rent to a former tenant is going too far, in my opnion. Not to mention, who’s to say information isn’t just entered out of spite? If you don’t think it’s a big deal, that’s fine, but I wouldn’t minimize the effect this website could have on consumers.

  7. Tony Arko says:

    An instructor certificate and some forms you’ve read do not qualify you as an attorney so I would be careful giving out legal opinions on a blog. Let’s run your legal advice that your are doling out past Lem and see what he says about it. Or didn’t you learn that in your licensing class, broker training or any number of other classes that inform real estate agents from giving legal advice.

  8. I’m sitting on the edge of the couch hurriedly stuffing popcorn in my face, like a squirrel eating a nut…. I’m just watching for the next blow.

    I’m not sure where the purpose of the banter is heading; but I’ll say that it’s more entertainment than education.

    Let me throw a few opinions out there.

    1. It’d be exceedingly cool if Lem or Chip Dicks (mastermind of the VRLTA) would hop onto VARBuzz and set us all straight. Talk about value in comments! Alas, we’re left to sort through it on our own. Tony, I don’t concur that she’s practicing law. Giving one’s opinion is what we all do on blogs all the time. The violation would be if I were depending on her as if she were an attorney, or she was projecting herself as one. We’re just here to share and hopefully all learn a bit more.

    2. I don’t think this service is wrong in and of itself. Sarah has stated above that she had to go to court over 6 different tenants. I wonder if she could have limited some of that drama, had she had a heads up from the previous landlord. If a landlord is a bigot and violates Fair Housing, than it’s only illegal if he a.) hires an agent b.)owns more than three rental c.) advertises his bias that violates FH (HOME vs. Matthews) I’d love to see them put this on the webpage so that they could be corrected…

    3. I think the system is a serious waste of money and a landlord who depends on it may be missing the opportunity to have a great tenant. There are some crazy landlords out there and typically will only post an opinion when ticked off… Additionally, I do not believe that past circumstances are always indicative of future behavior. I just don’t know that this is much different than calling a previous landlord for a reference. It would be a better system if a tenant could add their own explanations to the entries.

    Lastly, I know both of you well enough to know that you are above average agents with high levels of knowledge. I myself do not lecture on VRLTA because I frankly haven’t used it and only know enough to be dangerous.

    I think with the level of respect that most of us have for you and your knowledge, it carries some responsibility to have open and professional debates. Just saying…

  9. Tony – I didn’t give legal advice. I merely stated my opinion. I referenced the VRLTA. Last time I checked we all didn’t have to agree with Tony Arko. I’m sorry you’re upset that I have a different stance on this than you do, but that’s your monkey. Andrew also saw a potential problem with participating in this type of site. Should you turn both of us in for having a different opinion than you? You don’t have to comment on everything, especially if you think it is “much ado about nothing.”

    Matthew – Many of the tenants we had to evict conveyed with the purchase. We have over 50 tenants with only 6 evictions. 4 of which were leases that did convey with the purchase. Those are not bad odds considering we cater to lower income residents. You can only do so much when researching a tenant. The best person to get a rental reference, in our opinion, is the landlord before the last landlord. Some landlords will give a false reference just to get the tenant out of their property. In order to evict or get a judgement, you have to go to court. It’s part of the process.

  10. Jay Thompson says:

    Jeepers Tony, who pee’d in your Wheaties?

    I don’t see anything Sarah wrote as even remotely offering legal advice.

    If I were either a tenant or a landlord in Virginia, I’d want to know about this. Seems like that’s pretty much the point of her post.

  11. Jay,

    No urination needed….it’s just Tony. I’ve been on the receiving side a few times, too.

  12. I don’t really know these rules but I have to say that in a perfect world it should not be a crime to call a dead beat a dead beat and help to protect the next unsuspecting honest person from getting ripped off by them.

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