Effective January 1, 2017, a change in California law will result in a rather significant change to the data bases often used by landlords during the tenant-screening process.
Assembly Bill 2819 (Chiu) was approved by the Governor on September 13 of this year. It amends section 1161.2 and adds section 1167.1 to the California Code of Civil Procedure. It deals with the reporting of persons involved in an unlawful detainer (eviction) proceeding.
As the law now stands, when an eviction proceeding is filed, the court records are "masked" -- made unavailable to the general public -- for the first sixty days, and permanently thereafter if the defendant tenant prevails in the action within that 60-day window. According to the Senate Bill Analysis, "This masking provision, enacted by SB 345 (Kuehl, Chapter 787, Statutes of 2003), is designed to protect a tenant's identity from being released both while an action is pending and afterward, if the tenant prevails, so as not to harm the tenant's ability to secure alternate rental accommodations."
The analysis goes on to point out: "While the majority of unlawful detainer actions are resolved within the 60-day masking period, tenants who contest the action and choose to be represented by an attorney often times do not reach a resolution until after the 60-day mark. Consequently, even in cases where a tenant ultimately prevails and defeats an unlawful detainer action, existing law permits the record of these unlawful detainer actions resolved after more than 60 days to be unmasked."
The author of the bill had this to say about the current situation: "UDs [unlawful detainers] are supposed to be heard within 20 days of filing; however, following severe budget cuts and court closures during the recent recession, statewide delays in the judicial system now commonly push these hearings past the 60-day mark. The most recent data from Judicial Council shows that a record 32 [percent] of UD cases remain unresolved at the 45-day mark."
"As a result, the identities of thousands of tenants -- even if they ultimately prevail in the eviction action -- are automatically revealed if they fail to win by the 60-day mark. Companies capture and publish lists of these tenants' names, and this information may remain on a tenant's credit report for up to seven years. In other words, mere involvement in an eviction lawsuit becomes grounds for tenant blacklisting. Landlords who rely on this information are unable to distinguish between problematic and innocent tenants, so they end up screening out meritorious applicants. The housing crisis is then exacerbated for thousands of innocent Californians."
AB 2819 puts the shoe on the other foot, so to speak. It requires that tenants' names can be accessed only if the landlord has prevailed within sixty days. This will eliminate the release of the names of thousands of tenants who had been charged, but were never found to be in violation.
So there you have it. Under the old law, many people who were innocent were in effect treated as if they had been found guilty. Under the new version, of course, there will be those who were found to be guilty, but will be treated as if they were innocent. Which is better? I don't know. It sounds like one of those liberal-conservative things.
I'm staying out of it.