Eviction cases follow people for years. It is not fair. – Next city
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) was hired in the mail earlier this year, she was excited about a fresh start, which finally included the option to move out of social housing and rent an apartment in a better neighborhood – one with nice amenities and a nearby green space that was closer to work. However, when she started applying for units, she soon realized that a fresh start would be more difficult than she thought. Each of the three places she initially applied to all gave her the same answer – that she had been turned down due to her deportation case, even though she was never deported.
After receiving the written refusal, Jessica was able to obtain a copy of her tenant selection report. She was shocked to find five eviction cases on the report, spread over a 6-year period. Although she was never evicted, she had been behind on her rent a few times, for amounts ranging from less than $ 100 to just over $ 300. These late payments – sometimes only a few days – triggered deportation requests. All were then removed or marked “satisfied” by the owner’s attorneys, and Jessica never entered the eviction courtroom once – but they remained on her file. Even though Jessica was aware of the existence of these eviction requests, she had no idea that they would continue to come forward and haunt her, especially when her Housing Authority property manager reassured her to many times that late payment would not result in a complaint being lodged or a negative stain on his file.
Jessica’s story highlights the ways tenants are punished by eviction requests. These records remain readily available to the public and to tenant screening companies, even when the filing does not result in an eviction or is resolved in favor of the tenants. Additionally, the rating algorithms of these screening companies are opaque, leaving tenants with little recourse to challenge a poor score. And even if the information on the case is correct, a payment that is a few days late becomes a case that lasts for years into the future, punishing tenants by excluding them from decent housing for years to come.
Eviction cases have been shown across the country to have a disparate impact on black women and their families, causing dangerous cycles of poverty and generational instability. This grim reality is reflected in Philadelphia, where 71% of annual evictions are filed in communities of color. The pandemic has dramatically exacerbated the challenges faced by black and other communities of color, the elderly, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ + people. These communities are the most likely to have lost income during the pandemic, putting them at greater risk of eviction requests, and therefore at risk of homelessness and instability beyond the pandemic.
And yet, eviction cases are often just a glimpse of someone going through a difficult time. Tenants may recover from illness, job loss, death in the family, or domestic violence issues, but the eviction case will follow them, trapping them in substandard housing or preventing the ‘access to better job opportunities that force them to relocate. Tenants are often punished for exercising their legal right to withhold rent for repairs, resulting in a request for eviction. The tenant is left with a permanent stain on their record because the landlord failed to live up to their end of their agreement providing a safe and livable home. Tenants like Jessica are kept in dangerous cycles of poverty due to policies that make these files easy to contract and difficult, if not impossible, to eliminate.
Currently, policy makers across the country are exploring options that will dismantle the significant barriers eviction cases place on access to stable and healthy housing by regulating access to and how they can be found. be used in rental decisions. In Philadelphia, the Tenant Access Act, introduced by Philadelphia City Council member Kendra Brooks (Bills 21032900 and 21033000), is a major solution to this problem. The legislation creates a tenant selection policy that will provide guidance on how eviction records can be used when landlords are reviewing tenant applications.
The Tenant Access Act would achieve a number of important goals. First, this would create three new requirements: Landlords must provide uniform, written selection criteria to every tenant who applies for their unit, and if a tenant is rejected, they must provide a written statement why, including any third-party information they have. they used to make their decision. In addition, owners would be required to go through an individualized examination and give weight to other circumstances in addition to the simple eviction case. It would also ban policies that reject applicants solely on the basis of their credit rating or deportation record.
The Tenant Access Act also prohibits landlords from considering certain criteria, including non-payment of rent or utility bills during COVID-19 emergencies, and certain types of eviction cases. . The law would also give claimants the right to challenge inaccurate information or request reconsideration in the event of extenuating circumstances, while requiring owners to allow time to review new information.
Finally, this legislation increases transparency as to the criteria used to assess candidates. The clarity of the application process helps landlords and tenants complete the units. Rental application fees can be a significant barrier for low-income tenants looking for housing. By requiring owners to provide written selection criteria, applicants have a better idea of whether they should spend the money to apply.
On June 8, the Law and Government Committee of Philadelphia City Council will hold a hearing on the Tenant Access Act. Tenants affected by eviction cases are mobilizing to testify at the hearing and share their stories about why the Tenants Access Act is needed for more equitable access to housing in our city, especially here where laws on deletion of eviction records and sealing do not yet exist. The Tenant Access Act will work interconnected with other protections and programs such as Legal Counsel and Diversion – providing the opportunity to fundamentally change the culture of evictions and housing access in Philadelphia, and set a model and standard for other cities to follow.
Rasheedah Phillips is a Housing Policy Lawyer at Community Legal Services. Ms. Phillips is an expert in subsidized housing law and has successfully advocated for changes in housing policy affecting the entire city of Philadelphia and beyond.