If you, like Denise Barton and her young twin daughters, are evicted from an apartment in California, like they were from theirs in the Outer Richmond, you can fight... but she chose not to. That's because it's so risky: You really want to win your legal challenge in 60 days or fewer, otherwise, you could end up on a private blacklist for renters, the kind that landlords typically use to weed out potential tenants.
To illustrate the status quo, ABC 7 spoke to Barton, who was evicted last year before moving to El Cerrito. "They told me I had to be out in 60 days," Barton told the news channel, "And in that notice they threatened that if I did not leave, they would file an unlawful detainer action against me." Barton's choice: Fight the detainer, or leave quietly.
As a lawyer herself, she was inclined to do the former. But the new mother soon found out about registry lists, like UD Registry and RentCheck. Those are used by landlords to see if tenants have had legal squabbles with landlords in the past. "If I didn't prevail within 60 days, my name would go on this blacklist," Barton realized, "[and] I would be prevented from renting again or my credit would be destroyed for seven years." To clarify, even if Barton were to win her case within 61 days, she could still remain on the list. But that state of affairs could soon change thanks to legislation written by San Francisco State Assemblyman David Chiu.
AB 2819, which narrowly passed through the legislature, is now before Governor Brown. "The names of thousands of innocent tenants whose cases are resolved only after the 60-day deadline appear on unlawful detainer registries," the bill explains. "Many of these tenants successfully settle, secure a dismissal, or win at trial, and would have escaped negative credit reporting if only they had prevailed before the deadline," the bill goes on. According to a press release from Chiu's office, roughly 500 eviction lawsuits were unresolved within 60 days in San Francisco; In Alameda County, 1,400 were unresolved within 60 days, with that number 6,000 in Los Angeles.
There are other legal complaints that might never be dismissed, also leaving tenants to languish on blacklists. "In other instances, unlawful detainer complaints are filed against tenants but never served. Because these complaints are never dismissed, the tenant’s name is publicly released after 60 days and negative credit reporting ensues."
Amidst a housing shortage, in an increasingly competitive California rental market, the weight given to blacklists can be even more disproportionate. From the language of the bill: "Because landlords, who are attempting to decide between numerous applicants for scarce rental housing, rely on unlawful detainer registries and on credit reports, landlords often choose not to rent to tenants who appear on these registries, even if the tenants were eventually found innocent of unlawful detainer."
Landlord groups are opposed to the bill, obviously, and are lobbying hard for the Governor's veto. "Many of our members have only one rental, often in the same building where we live," Small Property Owners SF president Noni Richen told ABC 7 via email." We need to be able to access full credit information as any other business." But regardless of the outcome, it's too late for some like Barton. She and her twins will be leaving the By Area, as she tells the news channel.
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