Lawmakers Resist Effort to Seal Eviction Records

by Chris on October 19, 2020

Louisiana’s legislature rejected a bill that would have prevented landlords there from obtaining eviction records on tenants who did not pay rent during the pandemic.

The measure would have prevented courts from reporting eviction cases for nonpayment that occurred during a period from March 16, 2020 to August 1, 2021. Proponents argued that this would create a safe harbor for tenants struggling to recover from job losses and unexpected expenses caused by the pandemic. Experts are forecasting the state could see 140,000 such eviction filings next year.

Those who opposed the measure include a local landlord association which argued that tenants deserving of forbearance could not be distinguished from those who had the money to pay rent and chose not to.

Court administrators who would be forced to create and maintain a separate data storage system to comply with the law without any additional financial assistance opposed the measure.

A local press association also objected, arguing that the law would prevent the media from accurately tracking and reporting on eviction cases.

The bill was defeated by an 8-3 vote in committee.

But the introduction of the Louisiana measure highlights an ongoing trend in many cities and states across the country to limit the information landlords can consider when screening rental applicants.

For instance, Clean Slate legislation aimed at limiting criminal history is gaining momentum. Louisiana passed a similar initiative this summer, although that measure was centered on removing onerous administrative barriers that prevented those who were entitled to criminal record expungement from asserting their rights.

In other areas, like Portland, Oregon, the Clean Slate initiative is supercharged to include violent crimes, leaving landlords blind to past criminal behavior and preventing them from assessing an individual applicant’s risk of recidivism. Under that ordinance and those like it, a person could complete a lengthy prison sentence for a violent crime and be eligible to apply for housing the next day.

Landlords stand to lose plenty should a rental applicant with a criminal history repeat the pattern. Negligence lawsuits are a real concern, and Clean Slate initiatives do not offer landlords legal immunity from lawsuits should someone else fall victim to a “foreseeable” crime committed by a tenant with a history of violence or burglary. Insurance premiums may increase. Appraisal values may be impacted, and some lenders may refuse to fund loans or refinance properties in crime-ridden areas.

A handful of lawmakers would like to curb the use of credit reports, in addition to limits on eviction and criminal histories, arguing that poor credit should not be an indication of a person’s qualifications as a renter.

When laws like these are coupled with first-in-time rules that require landlords to accept the first tenant with minimum qualifications, good tenants who have paid on time, preserved their credit, and maintained good rental history are marginalized, and may lose out on housing to tenants who wind up being evicted.

It’s easy for landlords to see how these limitations on tenant screening information lead to income loss. Tenants who already have poor credit or a bad rental history have nothing more to lose — and no incentive to pay rent or honor the lease agreement.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

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