‘Clean slate’ relief for tenants proposed

Tenants could have records of past wrongful eviction actions sealed under a bill considered by the Judiciary Committee March 8.

Sen. George Dungan
Sen. George Dungan

LB175, introduced by Lincoln Sen. George Dungan, would allow tenants to receive “clean slate relief” — or the automatic sealing of the court record — if a trial court issues an order dismissing an eviction proceeding against them.

The bill also would provide a cause of action for a tenant to seek clean slate relief if at least three years have passed since an eviction judgment was entered and restitution was paid, or if an eviction action:
•was never carried out;
•ended in dismissal but the record remained public; or
•resulted in a judgment that was later reversed or vacated.

Dungan said that under current law, an eviction case remains on a person’s record, even if it is dismissed, which can make finding future housing difficult.

“When cases are dismissed for whatever reason, that charge should not remain on their record,” he said.

Dungan said sealing eviction records would protect tenants from having their housing options limited arbitrarily based on a judicial action that didn’t result in an eviction or no longer accurately reflects the tenant’s conduct.

Destiny Fant, a tenant assistance specialist, spoke in support of the bill. When an eviction notice is filed, she said, it remains on an individual’s permanent record and counts as a strike against them when attempting to find alternate housing.

“It doesn’t matter if the eviction was filed wrongfully, incorrectly or dismissed before the case even came [to court],” Fant said. “For the cases that are heard before the court, a lot of times stipulations are made that the tenant agrees to, and the [property owner’s] attorney will vacate or dismiss the eviction.”

Scout Richters, speaking on behalf of the ACLU of Nebraska, also testified in support. Evictions can have devastating consequences, she said, including job loss, health issues, material hardship and homelessness.

“That lasting stigma of a prior eviction notice filing often compels poorer tenants to avoid court involvement at all costs rather than exercising their rights,” Richters said. “Many tenants endure horrible living conditions or comply with unlawful lease termination notices to avoid sustaining that permanent mark of an eviction filing.”

Lynn Fisher, representing the Nebraska Realtors Association and the Statewide Property Owners Association, testified in opposition to LB175. The proposal would undermine the right of private property owners to choose the best possible tenant for their property, he said.

“This bill, if passed, would prevent an owner or property manager from finding the truth about an applicant’s past behavior as a tenant,” Fisher said.

Gene Eckel, testifying on behalf of the Nebraska Association of Commercial Property Owners and the Apartment Association of Nebraska, also spoke in opposition. LB175 would prevent housing providers from obtaining full access to a tenant’s history, he said, and that information is essential to ensuring the safety and security of all parties involved.

“It is important for owners to be able to evaluate pending previous filings, as they show a pattern of behavior,” Eckel said.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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