Eviction filings hamper tenants' ability to find a new home, regardless of the outcome of the case.
February 22, 2023
Dawn Raftery, Vice President of Communications
Shriver Center on Poverty Law
CHICAGO, IL – A new state legislative proposal will expand opportunities for people to seal their eviction court records, which will increase equitable access to homes.
The eviction sealing legislation, introduced in the House by State Representative La Shawn Ford (HB 1569), and in the Senate by State Senator Karina Villa (SB 242), seals certain eviction cases when:
The legislation also seals eviction records older than 7 years old, dismisses and seals open cases where the parties have taken no action for 180 days, and prohibits tenant screening companies from disseminating information about a sealed court file.
“Sealing eviction records does not negate the application process. Landlords will still be able to screen tenants by doing credit and reference checks,” said Representative Ford. “Too often, when an old eviction case shows up on a screening report, the landlord automatically denies housing without allowing the potential tenant to make the case that they will be a good, responsible tenant. That isn’t fair.”
Eviction filings hamper tenants’ ability to find a new home, regardless of the outcome of the case. Based on pre-pandemic data, more than 50% of eviction filings in Illinois do not result in a judgment against the tenant. The mere filing of an eviction does not mean the tenant was actually evicted, did not pay their rent, or cannot meet future rental obligations—filings remain in the public record indefinitely. These filings stain the tenant’s record and ultimately trap people and families in poverty.
National and local data show that Black and Latinx renters are disproportionately at risk of an eviction filing. This is especially true for female headed households.
As part of the COVID-19 Emergency Housing Act (Public Act 102-005), the State of Illinois passed a temporary state law that allowed more people to have their eviction records sealed. However, those provisions sunset in 2022. As a result, tenant eviction records remain publicly available even when there has been no judgment against them. This includes cases that were dismissed, cases where tenants successfully defended against the eviction, or cases when tenants were evicted through no fault of their own.
While the temporary sealing provisions were in effect, The Law Center for Better Housing (LCBH) hosted 15 community-based clinics. Over nine months, LCBH helped hundreds of tenants seal 1,058 old eviction records.
One of these tenants was Marco Villareal. After overcoming unemployment, facing an unfair eviction, and experiencing homelessness eight years ago, Villareal thought the worst was over. When forced to give up his apartment, he paid outstanding back rent plus late fees, unaware that the landlord had filed and then abandoned an eviction case against him. Even though there was no judgment against him, the eviction filing made finding a new apartment challenging and drove him to stay with a relative.
“During the last couple of years, I tried to leave and find better housing, but I was denied again and again because of that eviction,” Villareal said. Today, with help from LCBH, Villareal can put his painful past behind him. “This is a new beginning for me,” he said. “With my eviction record now sealed, I can finally move forward with my life thanks to LCBH.”
“I’m regularly told by my constituents looking for housing that having any eviction record in their past, regardless of the circumstances or outcome of the case, results in an automatic denial by a landlord,” said Senator Villa. “I want to expand common sense eviction sealing opportunities in state law, so that in practice people seeking housing are not excluded from the pool of eligible applicants, especially for eviction cases that were dismissed or happened many years ago.”
By passing this legislation, Illinois will follow in the footsteps of multiple states that have recently passed state laws expanding eviction record sealing, including Indiana and Utah. The coalition working to pass this legislation is led by Communities United, Housing Action Illinois, the Law Center for Better Housing, and the Shriver Center on Poverty Law.
The Shriver Center on Poverty Law fights for economic and racial justice. Over our 50-year history, we have secured hundreds of victories with and for people living in poverty in Illinois and across the country. Today, we litigate, shape policy, and train and convene multi-state networks of lawyers, community leaders, and activists nationwide. Together, we are building a future where all people have equal dignity, respect, and power under the law. Join the fight at povertylaw.org.
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