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Limits on Reporting of Eviction Records – Do unto Others

June 8, 2016 9:56 am

Scales of Justice.Washington State Senate Bill 6413 (SB 6413) is the product of a rare compromise between landlord and low income housing advocacy groups.

SB 6413 does three things.  It requires landlords to state whether they accept “comprehensive re-usable tenant screening reports”, extends from 14 to 21 days the time a landlord has to return deposits, and provides a mechanism for limiting dissemination of eviction records under certain circumstances.

What exactly does limiting dissemination mean? It means that a judge can sign a court order that limits the use of eviction records by tenant screening agencies.

We are generally opposed to efforts to limit access to the public record. But there are exceptions.  We support limits on dissemination of information regarding victims of domestic violence, for example, information that might threaten the safety of those individuals.

So how do we feel about limits on dissemination of eviction record information?  Pretty good, actually!  Here’s why:

  1. The statute is reasonably clear as to the circumstances under which the court can do so.

“A court may limit dissemination of an eviction record for one or more persons if:
(a) The court finds that the plaintiff’s case was sufficiently without basis in fact or law;
(b) the tenancy was reinstated under RCW 59.18.410 or other law; or
(c) other good cause exists for limiting dissemination of the unlawful detainer action.”

  1. The limits on dissemination are narrowly applied.

“When an order for limited dissemination of an unlawful detainer action has been entered with respect to a person,  tenant screening service provider cannot:
(a) Disclose the existence of that unlawful detainer action in a tenant screening report pertaining to the person for whom dissemination has been limited, or
(b) use the unlawful detainer action as a factor in determining any score or recommendation to be included in a tenant screening report pertaining to the person for whom dissemination has been limited.”

The information remains in the public record, however, accessible to the general public – including landlords.  Further, there is nothing in the law that limits the landlord’s ability to use the information, should they become aware. Contrary to what some may say, there is also nothing in this law that prohibits a landlord from providing (objective) rental references on a current or previous tenant.

  1. We put ourselves in the shoes of residents who may fall victim to a bogus unlawful detainer action – motivated by something other than a failure by the resident to fulfill the terms of the rental agreement – one without a basis in law and in fact or where there is a judgment in favor of the resident. Example:  Hundtofte v Encarnacion.

Bottom Line

Imagine that you are the victim of a bogus lawsuit (UD claim).  Imagine too, how it would feel to be turned down by a prospective landlord – notwithstanding the facts of the case.  Would you want the option of limiting use of filing for tenant screening purposes?  Would you want others to have the same right?  Of course!  Do unto others!

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