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According to a tenant advocacy group, several online ‘bad tenant’ registries have received a warning that their listings may be illegal.

The California-based group, Tenants Together, says the letters are in response to a complaint it filed with the Federal Trade Commission over what it describes as “tenant blacklisting” services.

It says the FTC has issued warning letters to the website operators and several tenant screening companies advising them they must comply with federal law. Specifically, the companies hosting tenant registries must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Â According to Tenants Together, the letter states:

“This letter concerns your company’s website, [insert URL], which provides tenant rental history reports. We want to make you aware of the requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), a federal law enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC” or “Commission”), so that you can ensure your website and practices are in compliance with the law.”

The FTC letter stops short of accusing the recipients of violating the FCRA, despite what Tenants Together says is ample evidence that the websites are harmful to tenants. “We welcome this development, but we would have preferred more timely and decisive action,” said Dean Preston, the group’s Executive Director.

Tenants Together filed a complaint in 2008 with the Federal Trade Commission regarding the practices of a then-new bad tenant registry website, and its owner, Bluechip Group LLC. Tenants Together accused of operating in violation of numerous consumer protection laws.

In particular, the group objected to the capability for any website visitor to make “free unlimited bad tenant postings without login” and claimed it provided access to partial social security numbers of tenants. It also complained that the website lacked any way for tenants to contest the accuracy of the information posted about them. “This rogue website is operating as a consumer reporting company, but totally disregarding the rules that govern this type of operation,” noted Preston in 2008.

The websites have been allowed to continue in operation. However, Tenants Together is actively urging the FTC to step up enforcement efforts.

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