Legislature Passes Bill to Protect Innocent Tenants From Having their Credit Ruined by Banks

by Dean Preston on September 15, 2010

Will Governor Sign or Veto?

Tenants evicted through no fault of their own frequently have their credit history damaged for years. In California, where hundreds of thousands of tenants are being evicted by banks because their landlords went into foreclosure, these credit impacts are particularly harsh. Fortunately, a bill by state senator Ellen Corbett (D – San Leandro) would limit this collateral damage to innocent renters. Readers can weigh in by signing the online petition urging the Governor to approve Senator Corbett’s bill.

Years ago, California’s legislature tried to stop credit reporting companies from reporting evictions unless tenants were proven to have done something wrong by entry of judgment against them. The law, which is still on the books, provides that these companies can only report evictions where landlords obtain judgments against the tenants. Unfortunately, the courts severely restricted the law, ruling that reporting companies have a first amendment right to report eviction records that are public.

As a result, currently the courts “mask” eviction records (meaning they restrict public access to those court records), but only if the tenant prevails within 60 days of the date the case is filed. Because the timing of eviction cases is generally out of the tenants’ control, this means that tenants facing an eviction lawsuit must risk damage to their credit because they have no idea if the case will be resolved in their favor within that time frame. Amazingly, even when a tenant prevails and shows that an eviction was entirely bogus, if the tenant prevails more than 60 days after the case is filed, the eviction will show up on future tenant screening reports, effectively blacklisting the tenant. For this reason, even though many bank evictions after foreclosure are totally illegal, tenants are often afraid to assert their rights for fear that it will damage their credit history.

SB 1149, co-sponsored by the California Reinvestment Coalition and the Western Center on Law & Poverty, takes an important step to address this issue. In addition to requiring banks to provide better notice to tenants after foreclosure of their rights, the law would also limit access to eviction records in post-foreclosure situations. Such records would only become public if the bank prevailed in the eviction court case.

The law was authored by Senator Ellen Corbett. Sen. Corbett has proven herself a strong advocate for basic fairness for renters in recent years. While many politicians ignore the plight of California’s renters, Sen. Corbett clearly understands that both homeowners and renters are impacted by the foreclosure crisis. She has used her position as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee to bring attention to the plight of tenants in foreclosed properties and work toward legislative solutions that protect renters in this precarious situation. For this, she deserves great credit.

The legislature passed SB 1149. To see how your legislators voted, click here. The bill is now before the governor. The governor has vetoed other tenant bills in recent years, but did sign legislation in 2008 that provided additional notice for tenants in foreclosed properties. The governor has not announced his position on SB 1149.

Tenants Together has set up an online petition to urge Governor Schwarzenegger to sign SB 1149. Please sign the petition today. Tenants should not be blacklisted because of evictions arising from their landlords’ failure to pay the mortgage.

Dean Preston is the executive director of Tenants Together, California’s statewide organization for renters’ rights. For more information about Tenants Together, visit www.TenantsTogether.org.

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