What began as a student paper by Lieff Cabraser law clerk Philip M. Hernandez (Berkeley Law School Class of 2016) will be California state law as of January 1st, 2017. Signed last week by Governor Brown, the new law will keep tenant records private unless landlords win an eviction suit. Previously, due to a loophole in California law, tenants had to prevail in any eviction suit within 60 days, or their records were released regardless of the suit’s eventual outcome.
This was the case despite the reality that many eviction cases last longer than the 60 day period, and the fact that the release of this information — even when the tenants might prevail in the eviction proceedings — often caused great harm to the tenants’ credit records, severely and negatively impacting their future housing options.
In his work as a student advocate with the Housing Program at the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC), Hernandez could not help but notice the rampant injustice inherent in California’s former statutory situation with respect to landlord-tenant law and evictions. “Problem is, cases regularly get resolved after 60 days,” Hernandez noted. “Even if the tenant wins or settles the case, or gets the case dismissed on day 61 or later, that tenant suffers a damaged credit score for seven years. Innocent tenants and their families may also be placed on ‘tenant blacklists.’ The result is that it can become nearly impossible for them to find safe and affordable housing, which exacerbates homelessness.”
While eviction proceedings are supposed to be heard within 20 days of filing, severe budget cuts and court closures in the wake of the 2008 economic downturn have caused statewide delays. The result is that current California law punishes tens of thousands of innocent tenants in California each year. This includes those who never receive notice of their eviction lawsuits, Hernandez further noted.
His bill—AB 2819—will ensure that all tenant records remain private unless landlords prevail within 60 days of filing suit, and will act to protect tens of thousands of California tenants each year.
“The first thing housing attorneys ask when they take a new case is, “When’s day 60?’” said Hernandez, who enrolled at Berkeley after working as a senior energy/climate change policy analyst in the White House. “Whether a tenant wins on day 59 or day 61 shouldn’t impact his or her life so dramatically. We’re not proposing a major, substantive change to landlord-tenant policy. It’s a common-sense adjustment that California badly needs.”
Read more about Hernandez’s amazing work on the Berkeley Law website.