Could Eviction Record Bans Extend Beyond New York State?

How to Prepare For A Potential Wave Of Evictions

In 2019, New York state passed a law that effectively banned the use of eviction reports for screening rental applicants. The law, which is part of The Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019, penalizes rental property owners who deny applicants on the basis of either a pending or prior eviction litigation. The law was met with widespread criticism, as well as fears that other states would adopt similar regulations.

This was all before COVID-19 was a concern. Since the pandemic, many states enacted temporary eviction bans, many of which have since expired. New York state recently extended its eviction moratorium until January 1, 2021, however that date is still subject to change. Despite this, many areas of the nation have reopened and are now conducting eviction hearings again. Could unemployment rates coupled with a potentially large number of evictions cause other states to consider a law similar to New York’s eviction screening ban? The future remains uncertain, but here’s a look at what the New York law entails.

New York’s Real Property Law

Section 227-F of the Real Property Law clearly bans the use of eviction records. It states:

  1. Rental property owners cannot refuse to rent to or offer a lease to an applicant on the basis of a current eviction litigation or a prior one. The provision also establishes a “rebuttal presumption” that the owner is in violation of the law if they request eviction records from a tenant screening company or reviews eviction-related court documents and denies the applicant.
  1. The attorney general can bring an action or special proceeding in the supreme court if they believe they have satisfactory evidence that “any person, firm, corporation or association or agent or employee thereof” has violated the above provision. Each violation could cost between $500 – $1,000.

While the law bans the refusal of applicants based on eviction records, it also discourages landlords and property managers from even looking at eviction records for fear of being fined if they deny an applicant – even if the eviction history played no part in the decision.

The full economic repercussions of the pandemic have still yet to be seen and there’s still uncertainty about how the spread of the virus might look in the winter. As of October 2, 2020, CNBC ran an article estimating as many as 35 million Americans could face eviction, with an average of 1 in 6 renters being behind in their rent as of September. Without further economic relief efforts from state and local governments, we could be facing widespread evictions in areas that no longer have moratoriums. If this happens, it’s possible more areas will enact a law similar to New York’s to account for the many evicted tenants who will be on the search for housing.

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