By PrincessSafiya Byers
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court voted earlier this month to limit the length of time eviction records can be kept online from 20 years to two years in cases without a money judgment.
While evictions where money is owed will remain public for 20 years, advocates for tenants are calling the Oct. 9 ruling a big step forward.
“This is a great move in the right direction toward our ultimate goal, which is tackling the homelessness crisis.” said Carmen Ayers, a staff attorney and housing priority coordinator with Legal Action of Wisconsin.
Legal Action, a legal aid firm and advocate for safe and affordable housing for low-income families, filed a petition to reduce the length of time eviction records are searchable from 20 years to one year in an effort to make the process of evictions fair to tenants.
Landlords, tenants weigh in
Many landlords consult eviction records through the statewide court website when deciding whether to rent to applicants. The argument from tenant advocates is that this data can put some renters at an unfair disadvantage.
“Because of eviction records, people are forced to rent poor quality housing at a more expensive price because those landlords are the only ones that’ll rent to them,” said Rachel Fox Armstrong, Legal Action’s development and communications manager.
She called evictions traumatizing and destabilizing events that can lead to a spiral into poverty.
Last year in Wisconsin, there were 25,819 filings for eviction, with 1,621 resulting in judgment of evictions being granted, according to Wisconsin’s Department of Administration.
And a recent report from Eviction Lab, which tracks evictions across the country, found that eviction actions are disproportionally filed against renters of color and that those most threatened by evictions are young children.
When Legal Action turned in itspetition, Heiner Giese, an attorney for the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin, got started on a memo opposing it. The Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin, or AASEW, is a trade organization representing owners and managers of rental housing in Wisconsin.
“While we can agree that online access to eviction records should be restricted after two years, you can’t just wipe out public records,” he said. “Records are the best indication landlords have of the type of tenant someone might be.”
Resources to consult if you’re worried about eviction
• Community Advocates rent helpline: 414-270-4646
• Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee: 414-727-5300
• Mediate Milwaukee: 414-939-8800
• Legal Action of Wisconsin: 414-278-7722
• Social Development Commission: 414-906-2700
• Milwaukee Autonomous Tenants Union: 414-410-9714
• Rental Housing Resource Center: 414-449-4777
• Eviction Free MKE: 414-892-7368