Eviction Records Should Be Expunged
The filing of an eviction—even without merit—can prevent someone from renting a future home, ruin a person’s credit, and even hurt employment and insurance prospects. It is time for government officials to put protections in place to prevent the long-term damage that eviction records cause.
State and local government officials must take action to address the harm caused by eviction records:
- Government officials should provide for the expungement or sealing of all eviction records. These records are not the product of a fair process or meaningful consideration of the facts. Instead, eviction filings are often weaponized by landlords, who know tenants face an extreme power imbalance in the housing court system. Even during the pandemic, when state and federal moratoriums were put in place to keep people in their homes, some landlords found ways to abuse the system and force evictions.
- Government officials should make expungement and sealing easy, if not automatic. A group of local elected leaders in Minnesota, for example, has demanded that Governor Tim Walz automatically expunge illegally filed evictions, because otherwise “the burden of addressing [them] will rest with renters”—a step that would only reinforce disparities.
- Government officials in jurisdictions where wholesale expungement or sealing is not possible should restrict the use of eviction records. Currently, private companies comb through court records to compile databases of people named in eviction filings. They subsequently sell this information to landlords, who use it to bar people from renting or increase security deposits. Government officials can curtail these practices by regulating the way both private companies and landlords obtain and use this information.
- Government officials should respond to constituent concerns about the harm eviction records cause. According to polling by Data for Progress and The Lab, 64 percent of likely voters support efforts to make it easier to seal or expunge eviction records, and roughly two-thirds of voters support policies that would prevent creditors, insurers, and employers from using eviction records against people.
Eviction records result from an unjust system and further exacerbate inequality:
- As Allyson E. Gold illustrates in a recent Appeal Lab explainer, there are many points in the eviction court process where renters are disadvantaged. “In practice, eviction courts are not the great equalizer, but rather part of the machine driving a national eviction crisis,” argues Gold.
- Yet, the records resulting from this unjust system can follow renters for the rest of their lives and drive them into “an almost permanent underclass situation where they can’t climb out or certainly can’t easily climb out,” explained Sandy Rollins, the executive director of Texas Tenants’ Union, in a Fort Worth Star-Telegram article. Even wrongful or improperly filed evictions create records that can be used against renters in the future.
- By making it harder for individuals to access shelter, eviction records “push already marginalized populations into substandard rental markets, where homes have dangerous conditions or require extra fees,” according to Kathryn A. Sabbeth, Associate Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina School of Law.
- People of color are more likely to have evictions filed against them, and Professor Sabbeth also notes that the “mark of an eviction record” is particularly hard for people of color to overcome. In effect, these records work to create another system of racial segregation and exclusion.
- Erasing the “Scarlet E” of Eviction Records. By restricting how eviction records are created, maintained, and used, legislatures can mitigate the harms of the records.
- Poll: Voters Support Protections From Eviction Records. A new national poll shows strong bipartisan support for policies that protect tenants from the profound and enduring harm of eviction court records—including expunging or sealing such records and restricting their use.
- How Eviction Courts Stack The Deck Against Tenants. Throughout the eviction process, the odds are stacked against tenants trying to assert their rights.
- How Policymakers (and Courts) Sabotaged Eviction Moratoria. The patchwork of local, state, and federal moratoria have proven porous, needlessly complicated, poorly understood, and rarely enforced. Moratoria will only be effective if they are strengthened to protect all renters throughout the crisis and used alongside supportive measures like rental assistance and the right to counsel.