Every time an eviction case is filed by a landlord in Colorado, it produces a court record, even if the tenant wins and gets the case dismissed.
Those eviction filing records are swiftly scraped up by third-party tenant screening companies that use them to produce rental reports for landlords that aren’t always accurate.
“And so the tenant –– a year and a half, two years, five years later –– may go to get a new place to live and find out that there’s an eviction on their record, when they actually were never evicted,” said Rep. Dominique Jackson, D-Aurora. “And certainly at that point, there’s absolutely nothing that they can do about it.”
In today’s tight rental market, this can make it even harder for individuals to find housing. House Bill 1009, now headed for the state Senate, would suppress eviction records while court proceedings are taking place and would remove them if the case is dismissed. If the landlord wins the dispute and an eviction is ordered, the suppression would be lifted unless both parties agree the record should remain sealed.
The push comes after a handful of laws passed during last year’s legislative session focused on addressing affordable housing, homelessness and renter’s rights, including limiting rental histories to seven years and approving an Eviction Legal Assistance Fund to provide services to low-income renters.
Advocates hope the bill will make it easier for more people to get into, and remain in, permanent housing, but they say Colorado still has a long way to go to equalize the power of landlords and tenants.
“We all know we have a massive housing crisis on our hands. I believe having a safe, affordable place to live is the cornerstone of being self sufficient,” said Jackson, who is leading the effort with Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster.
The bill would also prohibit the courts from publishing the names of involved parties online. And would require the summons in an eviction proceeding to include a notice that informs the tenant that their court records will remain sealed while their case is pending.
“This bill is a reasonable approach to prevent public records from being misinterpreted and to ensure that rental housing providers have an accurate picture of a potential renter’s previous performance,” said Drew Hamrick, with the Apartment Association of Metro Denver, in a prepared statement. AAMD is an affiliate of the Colorado Apartment Association, a trade association that represents over 420,000 apartment homes.
“It’s important that we, as an industry, understand the true numbers of evictions, not just eviction filings, so we can evaluate the issue holistically using real numbers,” Hamrick said.
Unlike last year, when landlord associations pushed back against a slate of renters’ rights initiatives introduced during the legislative session, this bill has warranted initial support from a handful of associations representing the rental housing industry.
“I think it’s pretty special that both sides, landlords and renters advocates, agree that this is a sensible and helpful public policy,” said Jack Regenbogen, senior attorney for the legal advocacy group Colorado Center on Law and Policy.
Tackling the eviction crisis
An estimated 2.3 million evictions are filed each year in the U.S., according to the American Civil Liberties Union. In 2016, Aurora had the 33rd highest number of evictions in the country, with 3,131 cases.
Between the years of 2000 to 2016, 36,240 evictions were filed in Colorado, but only 18,195 resulted in an eviction, according to data collected by the Eviction Lab at Princeton University.
Meaning, out of all the total evictions filed, only half resulted in an actual eviction. The number of evictions represents the number of cases filed, not the number of individuals impacted.
“For each case, there might be roommates, there might be children. So the number of people that are impacted is likely much higher,” Regenbogen said, adding that those numbers also don’t include individuals who leave their homes rather than go before a judge.
The stigma of an eviction has a rippling effect, explains Regenbogen, and fear of such encourages renters to avoid court involvement, often leading them to endure unfit living conditions or going along with an unlawful lease termination in order to avoid the eviction stamp on their record.
If a renter has an eviction record, they might be forced to pay more for housing up front in order for a private landlord to agree to rent to them, according to the Eviction Lab.
Evictions disproportionately impact people of color, particularly woman of color, and perpetuates social and economic inequities within the housing market.
On average, black renters have twice as many eviction orders filed against them by landlords compared to white renters, according to a recently released report by the ACLU.
Regenbogen says people with young children are also particularly at risk of eviction.
“It’s often a source of friction between landlords and tenants, even though that’s not supposed to be the case, as familial status is a protected class,” he said.
Others with higher risk include individuals with disabilities, older adults and victims of domestic abuse.
When a person is facing eviction, they have limited options. They can find a way to come up with late rent, vacate the unit or fight the case in court. But because eviction is often due to financial strains, finding representation for court can be a challenge.
“There’s been some strides in that area in the last couple of years in Colorado, but we found in a previous study that about 90% of landlords are represented by counsel, and less than 2% of renters, at least in the Denver evictions that we looked at, were represented,” Regenbogen said.
Regenbogen says the best option is trying to solve the issue informally with the landlord, but that’s not always realistic.
“There are misunderstandings that occur, sometimes whatever the issue was that led to the eviction can be resolved once it’s filed, to the satisfaction of both parties, but then of course the renter is saddled with the burden of having that filing record follow them around for years,” said Regenbogen.
He says he would like to see legislators address predatory financial strains for renters, such as excessive late fees, hefty security deposits, or unrealistic demands that rent be prepaid for a certain amount of time.
A handful of other bills are moving through the state legislature related to housing, including House Bill 1035, which aims to expand housing support services for individuals with behavioral, mental health and substance use disorders who come in contact with the justice system. Senate Bill 108, among other things, could prohibit landlords from requiring proof of citizenship when applying for housing. And House Bill 1141 seeks to put restrictions on the amount of fees landlords can impose on renters.
If the eviction suppression bill becomes law, it would go into effect on Dec. 1.