Illinois State Senator Patricia Van Pelt, a Democrat representing Chicago’s in the 5th District, has proposed SB0077 which is a new attempt to pass legislation to seal eviction records. This concept has popped up in the past and hasn’t gone anywhere, but, as demonstrated by the current fight over rent control, the more progressive members of the legislature have targeted landlords and we seem to be in the middle of an all out effort to overpower landlords in Illinois.
The effort to seal eviction records, like the fight over rent control, is a public policy struggle between property rights and human rights (or at least purported human rights). Once again, tenants’ rights activists want landlords to bear the burden of allowing tenants to have housing because housing is an (alleged) human right that takes precedence over landlords’ property rights. So, how does it do that?
SB0077 proposes an amendment to the Illinois Eviction Act providing that when an eviction is filed, the eviction record is sealed and remains sealed until there is a final eviction order entered. After an eviction order is entered, the record is again sealed after a period of 7 years. Here’s the relevant text (the law also seals the name of any tenant wound up in a condo association eviction of an owner for nonpayment of association dues which is not an issue relevant to this discussion).
What’s at stake here? Let me give you a hypothetical situation under this new law. A tenant stops paying rent to the tenant’s landlord. Because money does not grow on trees for landlords (despite what our legislators seem to think), the landlord is forced to file an eviction lawsuit against the tenant. Under the new law, that lawsuit is sealed. Basically, there is no record of the tenant being a party to an eviction suit until the eviction order is entered. However, before the eviction order is entered (an inevitability in this hypothetical), the tenant makes an application with a new landlord. That landlord does all of the standard background checking and can’t find any record of past evictions. The current eviction information is sealed. In addition, this tenant, who had another eviction eight years ago and ten years ago, the landlord can’t find any record of evictions during the previous seven years, so the landlord rents to the new tenant. The tenant has the money to pay first month’s rent because the tenant hasn’t been paying a dime to the landlord for the last three months, so there’s enough money to make things look like they are on the up and up. The eviction case is dismissed (because the tenant vacated before the entry of an eviction order) and so it remains sealed. The tenant is soon back to not paying the landlord and the new landlord now has the same problem the old landlord had on his hands. And, this cycle can repeat ad infinitum.
Shouldn’t landlords have access to eviction case information? Isn’t it relevant to their rental decisions? Of course, tenant’s rights activists will point to the high number of eviction cases that are filed that do not result in an eviction order. In many of those cases, an eviction order is never entered because the parties come to some kind of agreement. That doesn’t mean that the case was unjust or that the tenant was going to win the case. It really means that the system, which is unbalanced in favor of the tenant (because time is money to landlords who have mortgages to pay), might be inefficient and the landlord can get a “better deal” by dropping a money count and agreeing to give the tenant 30 more days in the property rather than waiting two more weeks to have a trial and then waiting six to eight weeks for the Sheriff to remove the tenant. Face it, there are serial evictees out there. Taking away a landlord’s access to past eviction information will severely restrict a landlord’s ability to make smart decisions about who to rent to.