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For most people, the start of a new job, especially one with a higher income, means the start of new opportunities. When Jessica (a pseudonym to protect her identity) got hired with the post office earlier this year, she was excited for a fresh start, which included finally being able to move out of public housing and getting to rent an apartment in a better neighborhood - one with nice amenities and nearby green space that was closer to her job. As she began applying for units, however, she soon began to realize that the fresh start would be more difficult to achieve than she thought. Each of the three places she initially applied to all gave her the same response — that she had been rejected due to her eviction record, even though she has never been evicted.
After receiving the written rejection, Jessica was able to obtain a copy of her tenant screening report. She was shocked to find five eviction records on the report, spread over a 6-year period. Though she had never been evicted, she had been late on her rent a few times, in amounts ranging from less than $100 to just over $300. Those late payments — sometimes by just a few days — triggered eviction filings. All were later withdrawn or marked “satisfied” by the housing provider’s attorneys and Jessica never entered the eviction courtroom once — yet they remained on her record. Although Jessica knew of the existence of these eviction filings, she had no idea that they would continue to show up and haunt her, particularly when her Housing Authority property manager reassured her again and again that the late payment would not result in a court filing or a negative stain on her record.
Jessica’s story underscores the ways that renters are punished by eviction filings. These records remain easily accessible to the public and tenant screening companies, even when the filing does not lead to an eviction or is resolved in a tenants’ favor. In addition, these screening companies’ scoring algorithms are opaque, leaving tenants with little recourse to contest a bad score. And even if the information on the record is accurate, a payment that is late by a few days becomes a record that lasts years into the future, punishing tenants by locking them out of decent housing for years to come.