On February 13, 2018, Representative Emanuel Chris Welch introduced House Bill 4760 that proposes to seal all eviction records for the first 30 days after a case is filed and at various other points in the eviction process. Since its introduction, nineteen state representatives have signed on as sponsors of the bill, many from the Chicagoland area. This would be a state statute and would apply throughout Illinois.
The bill synopsis provides, in part:
Provides that upon the filing of an eviction action, the clerk of the circuit court shall immediately seal the court file and mail a specified notice to the defendants in the action. Provides that the clerk shall unseal the file after 30 days after the entry of an eviction order under specified circumstances. Provides that unsealed files shall be re-sealed no later than 5 years after the eviction action was filed or by order of the court. Restricts access to a sealed court record to specified persons. Provides that the clerk of the circuit court shall maintain a record in the aggregate of the number of for-cause and not-for-cause eviction actions, and a count of the final dispositions of for-cause and not-for-cause eviction actions. Restricts the dissemination of any information contained in a sealed court file and provides that certain violations of the restrictions constitute an unlawful practice under the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. Makes a corresponding change in the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. emphasis added
If you are a landlord, you might be thinking “how will I effectively screen my tenants?” and you probably wouldn’t be wrong to think that. Basically, this statute is one more brick in the “housing is a human right” wall that is being built in Illinois and especially Chicago. The days of an owner’s property rights taking precedence over a tenant’s housing rights appear to be ending. Landlords need to take note. They need to begin (if they have not done so already) making business decisions based upon this policy shift because the landscape of the rental world is changing and for landlords, it is not changing for the better.
A policy like this is in line with the thinking presented a few years back by HUD when it restricted the use of criminal background checks. In essence, a landlord will not be able to know about (and subsequently deny) a tenant based upon an eviction that occurred more than five years ago. A law such as this will severely limit a landlord’s ability to screen out bad tenants.