The Eviction Records Catch-22: Why it's impossible to find new housing during a pending eviction case.
June 24, 2019
I get a lot of calls from people who are in middle of an eviction case and deciding how to handle it. One of the first questions they ask is: when does the eviction go on my record? Unfortunately, the answer is that it already is.
Let's step back a second and talk about what the question itself means. There are about a dozen tenant screening companies operating in the state of Minnesota at any give time. Each of these companies maintains a database of all the evictions filed in Minnesota District Courts. When a prospective tenant fills out a housing application, the potential landlord is able to communicate the tenant's information to the tenant screening agency and receive a tenant screening report containing a complete history of the tenant's eviction cases going back seven years.
The problem is that the tenant screening agencies update their databases almost in real time. As a result, ongoing eviction cases are included in these reports. In a tight housing market, the mere appearance of an eviction case, regardless of the outcome, is sufficient for a landlord to decline a tenant's housing application.
As the title states, this presents a tenant in the midst of an eviction proceeding with a catch-22. In many cases, the tenant has a bona fide dispute with the landlord to the extent that he or she wants to find new housing. The landlord filing the eviction often serves as the catalyst to make the move the tenant has been contemplating for awhile. And yet, the eviction case is now the very thing preventing the tenant from finding new housing.
The solutions to this problem are few. If the landlord is reasonable, they'll agree to change the case caption to "John Doe" or "Jane Doe" in order to prevent the case from showing up on a tenant screening report (and even this only has mixed success). Otherwise, the only sure option is to expunge the the eviction case, but absent the landlord agreeing, this basically forces tenants to contest the eviction case. The upshot of this is that the tenant is forced to fight a case to retain possession of a house or apartment in which they don't want to live any longer.
At the end of the day, the only real solution to this is legislative. The Minnesota House of Representatives introduced a bill this past session that would prohibit pending eviction cases from being searchable by the general public, thus preventing them from showing up on a tenant screening report. A solution where the public is prevented from seeing the records of a court system it funds with its tax money is far from perfect. However, in a system in which this publicly available data is weaponized, this might be the best in a series of bad options.