Harrisburg, PA − November 29, 2021 − Senator Nikil Saval (D–Philadelphia) today announced Fair Records for Renters legislation, which would rectify false eviction records data and thus eliminate a major barrier that currently prevents tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians from accessing safe and stable housing.
Under the status quo in Pennsylvania, a tenant is marked with an eviction record the instant an eviction case is filed against them. The tenant might win their case, or the case may settle or be withdrawn, but that initial filing follows the tenant year after year as part of their record. When landlords run tenant screening reports on prospective tenants, these filings show in the results, regardless of whether the tenant was ever actually evicted.
“Our current system of data reporting holds renters hostage with false positives,” said Senator Saval. “The vast majority of eviction filings in Pennsylvania end with no judgment entered against the tenant, but the devastating impact of these filings is that Pennsylvania families’ rights to housing are permanently violated. This legislation is a corrective.”
With so many Pennsylvanians experiencing protracted financial hardship under the pandemic, preventing inaccurate eviction records from being reported is important for a community’s recovery.
“Community Legal Services supports this vital legislation, which will aid in stabilizing families and neighborhoods as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Eviction records can harm people for life,” said Rasheedah Phillips, Managing Attorney of Housing Policy at Community Legal Services. “Not only do eviction records prevent people from finding stable housing, they also prevent people from accessing jobs, education, social services, and other opportunities, keeping families trapped in dangerous cycles of poverty. With the pandemic creating economic uncertainty and a wave of eviction filings, this legislation is an important way to address the housing crisis and promote fairness and access to safe and stable housing.”
Similar legislation has been introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, underscoring the importance of swift action on behalf of Pennsylvanians.
“Pennsylvania currently does not seal eviction records—regardless of the outcome in court,” said Representative Elizabeth Fiedler (D–Philadelphia). “An eviction record can follow a person for a lifetime and is proven to be a significant barrier in securing safe, affordable, and reliable housing in the future. This cascades to affect everything in that person’s life: employment, education, community stability, and much more. I am proud to work with colleagues in the House and the Senate on this legislation to give many people who rent the ability to have their record sealed and to break the damaging stigma and cycle they currently face.”
“I am introducing this bill alongside my colleagues because I know firsthand what it feels like to not have stable housing, and I want to do all that I can to ensure safe, clean and stable housing for everyone—and to make sure that no one’s past will hold power over their future, including over the ability to secure housing,” said Representative Rick Krajewski (D–Philadelphia). “It’s estimated that more than 20,000 renters have evictions filed against them each year in Philadelphia. Those records, even if they never result in an eviction, impact the renter’s ability to secure housing in the future. The very least we can do for these renters is seal their records to allow them a fresh start at affordable, safe housing. This simple change to the law will improve the health and stability of our communities.”
Evictions both replicate and perpetuate societal inequities. Women, families earning low incomes, people of color, and LGBTQ renters are all at higher risk for eviction filings and therefore experience greater harm from false data reporting. An ACLU analysis of national data provided by the Eviction Lab found that Black renters had evictions filed against them at a rate nearly twice that of white renters.
Legislation to correct data reporting has the potential to disrupt these patterns and foster housing and community stability.
“The COVID 19 pandemic and lockdown cost tenants their jobs and their ability to pay rent. As we come out of the pandemic, we need to make sure that tenants remain in their homes and landlords maintain their properties,” said Jared Solomon (D–Philadelphia). “Currently, a court filing by a landlord—whether meritorious or not—could mean a lifetime of struggle for a tenant to secure housing. Senator Saval’s bill prevents negative information from appearing on tenants’ records if the tenant wins a case in landlord/tenant court, or settles it, or has it withdrawn. This bill will incentivize tenants to settle cases and pay back money judgments to landlords in an effort to clear their records. We have a moment coming out of the pandemic that we can reset, redefine, and rework the relationship between tenants and landlords and ensure housing opportunities for all.”
The full co-sponsorship memo is available here.