Student Leads Effort to Protect Tenants Involved in Eviction Lawsuits

Monday, April 11, 2016

Berkeley Law – By Andrew Cohen

While working with the Housing Program at the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC), Hernandez assisted clients who suffered from what he calls “a big flaw in landlord-tenant law.” Under existing rules, a tenant must win an eviction suit within 60 days—or else the court records become public and end up on the tenant’s credit report. Fueled by the injustice he encountered as a student advocate, Phil Hernandez ’16 has turned a simple idea into a California bill to protect tenants involved in eviction lawsuits.

“Problem is, cases regularly get resolved after 60 days,” Hernandez said. “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.”

Eviction lawsuits are supposed to be heard within 20 days of filing. But severe budget cuts and court closures following the 2008 economic downturn has led to statewide delays. Current law punishes tens of thousands of innocent tenants in California each year, Hernandez said, including those who never received notice of the eviction lawsuit.

His bill—AB 2819—would ensure that all tenant records remain private unless landlords prevail within 60 days of filing suit.

“The first thing housing attorneys ask when they take a new case is, “When’s day 60?’” said Hernandez, who came to Berkeley Law after working in the White House as a senior policy analyst in energy and climate change. “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.”

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