Oct 14, 2022 - Real Estate

Arizona courts will seal some eviction cases to protect tenants' records

Illustration of eviction notice being shredded.

Illustration: Allie Carl

Maricopa County Justice Courts have already sealed about 250 eviction cases under a new law that took effect last month aiming to protect tenants' credit and future housing prospects.

Why it matters: Eviction filings hit a five-year high in 2019 and are now above that level after pandemic-era moratoriums ended and rental assistance has waned.

  • Landlords filed almost 6,700 eviction cases in the Valley last month, compared to about 6,100 in September 2019.

State of play: Researchers say the tenant in about 30% of metro Phoenix eviction cases, is never actually removed from the property — most often because they pay before their deadline.

  • These cases are typically dismissed, but credit agencies and future landlords can still find them and hold them against tenants.
  • The new law seals cases that have been dismissed and cases won by tenants.

What they're saying: “It’s making sure someone who was in that (eviction) process and finally found a way (to pay) ... doesn’t have that bad little moment in time follow them around for seven years," state Rep. Justin Wilmeth, R-Phoenix, who sponsored the bill, told The Arizona Republic.

Yes, but: Some researchers and tenant advocates worry that credit agencies and others may find loopholes to continue this data collection.

For example: Data companies purchase monthly case information from the courts and provide it to landlords and other people who perform financial background checks.

  • If a suit is active at the time of purchase but later dismissed, there's currently no way to guarantee that the company will update its information and erase it from the tenant's record.

Justice courts spokesperson Scott Davis tells Axios Phoenix that his team is working to update its protocols to adhere to the spirit of the law, which is to protect tenants.

  • He says the county is considering delaying the release of case data by a month so it can remove any that are sealed to make sure they are never made public.

Be smart: The new law applies only to cases dismissed on or after Sep. 24.

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