Yesterday, the Chicago Reader ran an article entitled “Failed eviction attempts wouldn’t haunt tenants under proposed state law“. The article touts the benefits of a proposed state law to automatically seal eviction records in Illinois.
The article references a report from Housing Action Illinois and LCBH reviewing the “stigma of eviction records”. The article posits that in the roughly 40 percent of eviction cases are “dismissed or otherwise resolved with no judgment against the tenant” the eviction filing can carry heavy consequences. They go on to suggest that tenants are named in an eviction because a landlord was foreclosed on or because developers seeking to clear a building evicted “without cause”. To quote the Bard, I think the tenant’s right’s side protests too much.
First, Illinois already has a law that seals evictions related to foreclosure. If tenant’s advocates want to argue that evictions related to foreclosure should be sealed upon filing, I think that would probably be much more fair than going to the extreme step in the proposed law of sealing ALL eviction cases in the first 30 days. If the proposed law passed in its current form, a bad tenant – one who was not paying rent or who was breaching a lease – would be protected and a new landlord doing due diligence on the tenant could not find out that the tenant was currently being evicted. That’s a ridiculous idea. Reform for the current law related to foreclosure? Sure. Seal all eviction cases for 30 days? No way. What are we doing to Illinois’ landlords?
Second, the article suggests that evictions should be permanently sealed for cases filed with cause even if the landlord prevails. The advocates suggest that this protects tenants who are evicted as a “consequence of property flipping”. Again, do we all understand how a tenant gets into eviction court? A landlord who has a right to flip gives a notice to the tenant terminating the tenancy. That notice is usually a 30 day notice. For landlords in Chicago who want to convert their buildings to condominiums, that notice can be as long as a 120 days! So it is only after a tenant FAILS TO VACATE after getting a notice that a case is filed. Is it not instructive to a future landlord that a tenant is the kind of person who does not move even when they are given a lawful notice? I think that information is very important to landlords.
Does sealing these records make sense? Maybe in certain cases. Maybe sealing immediately in a foreclosure case. Maybe in a case where the tenant prevails. However, there’s a reason most landlords end up in eviction court – it is because tenant’s won’t move even after a valid notice. Heck, even in the 40% of cases that are “dismissed or otherwise resolved with no judgment”, we probably need to examine what’s going on in those cases. In many cases, a tenant’s rights attorney intercedes and in some cases, with no real defense or with specious charges, files a jury demand, answer, or other stall or delay tactic only to have the landlord capitulate to a settlement that is “better” (ie. cheaper and faster) than playing out the case to its conclusion.
Landlords need to act quickly and contact their representatives if they want to prevent yet another law in a string of laws that seek to take away the landlord’s right to run a successful rental business.