PHILADELPHIA — New legislation in the state Senate would address what housing advocates say are unfair eviction records leading to residents being denied rental applications.

The screening report services landlords use for personal information on prospective tenants take data from court websites to determine if there was an eviction filed against them, without always including the outcome.

Sen. Nikil Saval, D-Philadelphia, introduced Fair Records for Renters legislation, which would permanently seal eviction records for tenants, and only allow them to become public if the landlord wins the eviction case.

Saval said the flaw in eviction records can create housing barriers for Pennsylvanians. 

“This is incredibly pertinent right now because of the pandemic when a number of people have had evictions filed against them for nonpayment of rent,” Saval asserted. “They are going around with these eviction records in the data screening services, and it’s going to be impossible or very difficult for them to find housing and stable housing.”

Saval released a co-sponsorship memo last week and plans to introduce legislation this month. A similar bill has already been introduced in the House by Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Philadelphia, and Rep. Rick Krajewski, D-Philadelphia.

Holly Beck, supervising attorney for Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, has supported many families who have experienced issues finding housing because of an eviction case coming up on their screening report.

Beck said Black mothers are hit hardest by these rental procedures.

“It is an enormous racial-justice and gender-justice issue,” Beck contended. “Sealing eviction records would allow families to move forward from a time of crisis and stabilize neighborhoods, communities, and allow landlords to see responsible tenants who are able to pay their rent.”

Philadelphia’s Renters’ Access Act went into effect in October and requires landlords to give tenants a copy of the screening report to check for errors in the event it is used to deny housing.

by Emily Scott