Evictions and Reporting Agencies: Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

Dealing with a credit reporting agency

In our system of justice, we often take for granted the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately, this fundamental idea of fairness is not exhibited in our credit reporting and tenant screening systems, particularly in regard to evictions. When a landlord files an eviction case against a tenant in Cook County, that information is public and often filed with reporting and screening agencies prior to the case being heard. The problem with this, of course, is that many eviction cases are dismissed and most foreclosure related evictions are by no fault of the tenant, yet the negative report appears in the records of these reporting and screening agencies.

Anyone who has tried to get a mortgage, take out a loan for college or a new car, or apply for a credit card understands the importance of having a good credit report. Our credit reporting system has been in place for a long time and is fairly well regulated. While the burden to clear up misinformation falls on one’s own shoulders, there are procedures in place for cleaning up the information in our credit reports. The process takes time, which unfortunately, a recently evicted tenant with an immediate need to find new housing does not have. Prospective landlords often use credit reports as part of their screening process, and will likely not want to rent to someone with a past eviction on their record. Less well known are tenant screening agencies. These agencies perform various background checks on tenants. One common check is eviction history. Again, when an eviction case is first filed, it is part of the public record, and may be reported by the agency to a prospective landlord.

LCBH has intervened on behalf of tenants, explaining to potential landlords the reason for evictions and, where an eviction should not have been filed at all, and has been sealed by the court, LCBH works to have the misinformation removed from reporting and screening agencies. Our efforts, unfortunately, are not always successful in convincing a landlord that a tenant’s application deserves additional review. It is clearly unfair to have deal with these negative consequences when you have done nothing wrong – it is like being found guilty until proven innocent. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to fix this. LCBH will continue to advocate on behalf of these tenants so they have a fair chance.