For four years, Ruth Cisneros hunted for a better apartment for herself and her young daughter, away from what she considered a dangerous, gang-plagued area near Burbank Airport. But her applications were always turned down.
Her efforts were being thwarted, unbeknown to her, by a report on file with a Van Nuys landlord information service that said a previous landlord had tried three times to evict her. Cisneros knew the eviction attempts were part of an effort to get rid of tenants whose rent payments were publicly subsidized. But because the cases had been withdrawn by the landlord who filed them and she had never been evicted, Cisneros thought she did not need to worry.
On Tuesday, in what was said to be a significant advance for tenant rights, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that information on eviction cases that are filed but later withdrawn cannot be reported to landlords.
“I was getting blacklisted,” said Cisneros, 29. “Every time I applied for apartments, I wasn’t able to get them, even though I had prevailed in my eviction cases.”
Cisneros was one of nine plaintiffs in a case filed in 1987 against U. D. Registry, a Van Nuys firm that sells information on prospective tenants to landlords. The 12-year-old firm says it keeps records on more than a million California renters and annually receives more than 500,000 requests for information on renters from approximately 4,000 landlords.
“This will have a tremendous impact,” said attorney David S. Pallack, of San Fernando Valley Neighborhood Legal Services in Pacoima. “Many tenants have been denied housing because of U. D. Registry reports that they were involved in eviction cases . . . which the tenants won.”
Tuesday’s summary judgment by Judge Jerry K. Fields was a preliminary ruling in a case filed against Harvey Saltz, president of U. D. Registry, by Pallack, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and the Western Center on Law and Poverty
The case contends that Saltz’s company, which sells information on evictions, violates the California Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act and other state and federal laws guaranteeing consumer rights. A trial seeking damages on behalf of the plaintiffs is scheduled for July.
But Saltz said he will appeal. “The judge’s warped reasoning, in effect, ruled that we can only report cases that the landlord wins,” he said. “That is entirely opposite of what the Legislature passed. . . .”
He said the language of the consumer law allows reporting of all cases not won outright by tenants. That includes cases filed but dismissed without a judgment, he argued.
Saltz said reports sold by his company state when a case has been dismissed or settled out of court. He said even if such cases are dismissed, a series of such cases may indicate that a prospective tenant is potentially troublesome.
But Pallack said merely reporting that an eviction case has been filed hurts a renter. “Some landlords have a policy that they won’t rent to any tenant who has been involved in an eviction case,” he said. “They don’t want to know what the facts are.”
Last March, Cisneros found a pleasant two-bedroom apartment in a security-gated building in Burbank. But she was allowed to move in only after Pallack intervened and told the manager that she could prove that she had been a good tenant and never evicted. “Today’s decision is really going to help a lot of people besides me,” she said.