Question: My husband and I were recently taken to court by our landlord, who was trying to evict us. The landlord alleged in the court papers that we hadn't paid our rent. When we went to court for our trial, we reached an agreement with the landlord's attorney to move out as part of a settlement of the case. We found another rental and moved out within a week, but now we are worried that this court case will still show up on our credit report. Will this case continue to haunt us?
Answer: You are right to worry about your credit status. Credit reporting agencies and subscription services that screen tenants for landlords review court records. They report tenants who have been named in eviction cases, which are known as unlawful detainer or UD cases. Many landlords will screen prospective tenants through one of these agencies, a practice that is consistent with careful management. A tenant eviction that shows up in one of these reports will almost certainly result in the rejection of that tenant's application.
The rules under which these agencies can gain access to UD court records are regulated by California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1161.2. For the first 60 days after the case is filed, access to the UD court file is restricted to the parties, their attorneys and a few other persons such as residents of the property who show proof of residency. No one else can review the file without obtaining a court order, which means that credit reporting agencies will not have access to your records during that time.
However, after 60 days, this "masking" protection is removed and anyone can access your court record, including reporting agencies, unless you are the prevailing party, which means you won the lawsuit; your landlord agreed to dismiss the case within 60 days from the filing of the complaint; or you and your landlord agreed to "maintain restricted access" and this agreement is recognized by the court.
You need to review the settlement you reached with the eviction attorney. If it provided that judgment would be entered against you and your husband, you will not be protected after the initial 60-day limit expires, even if you complied with your obligations. On the other hand, if there was no judgment, if judgment was entered only if you failed to comply or if your landlord agreed to dismiss the case within 60 days, your status as a UD defendant will continue to be masked, and reporting agencies will not have access to your file.
Even if you believe your name on your case will be permanently masked, you should verify that outcome. Check the court file for your case to make sure there was no judgment entered against you. Also check with the management of your local county clerk's office to make sure that office is complying with the masking provisions. After 60 days have passed, periodically review at least one free credit report at the annualcreditreport.com site to make sure the UD is not listed. If the UD is reported, you need to write a letter to the reporting agency asking that agency to correct the report.
Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a Bay Area nonprofit. Send questions to email@example.com.