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 State Supreme Court is weighing a rule change that would reduce to one year the length of time that eviction records are held and are searchable.
Legal Action of Wisconsin, which filed the rule petition in March, believes the change will help reduce the harm of having an eviction on someone’s record, which impacts housing options.
The group went live on Facebook on Tuesday Aug. 9 to answer questions about the petition.
A rule petition is the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s process for making and changing court rules, according to Carmen Ayers, the housing priority coordinator at Legal Action, which provides free legal services to low-income people.
In this case, Legal Action is petitioning to reduce the length of time eviction records are held and searchable from 20 years to one year in cases where there is no money owed.
Here are some things you should know:
Why did Legal Action petition for evictions to be removed?
Rachel Fox Armstrong, the group’s development and communications manager, said Legal Action wants to make the process of evictions fair to tenants.
“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,” she said.
Fox Armstrong called evictions traumatizing and destabilizing events that can lead to a spiral into poverty.
How do landlords feel about it?
Heiner Giese, an attorney for the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin is working on a memo opposing the petition.
“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.”
Giese said that the state Supreme Court has already made changes that favor tenants.
In 2017, the Supreme Court approved a provision that says courts may not remove, for a period of 10 years, case management information from the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access Program site for a civil case that is not a closed, confidential or sealed.
But if an eviction action has been dismissed and no money judgment has been docketed, the eviction can be removed from the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access Program site.
Other landlords such as Danielle Zille say they don’t reject tenants based on evictions alone.
“It is just one piece of information. It doesn’t tell a full story,” she said. “We’re looking at someone’s pattern of behavior to help assess the risk of renting to that person and to understand their ability to afford the rent.”
Zille said what matters more than an eviction is someone’s job history, income and references.
When is all of this happening?
Legal Action filed the petition in March. The process is now in the written comment period. This means everyone has the opportunity to share thoughts and opinions on changing the rule. This period ends Thursday, Aug, 25.
Then Legal Action has until Sept. 8 to respond to written comments. After that, the group will find out if the issue will move into a public hearing phase.
You can mail written comments to:
Clerk of the Supreme Court
P.O. Box 1688
Madison, WI 57301
You can also send an email to Clerk@Wicourts.gov.
If you have more questions about the rule petition, you can call Legal Action at 855-947-2529 or visit its website.
Here are resources if you are worried about having an eviction on your record.
Legal Tune-up: This is an online tool that helps users determine if they are eligible to have criminal, housing or other blemishes removed from records. LIFT Dane, a Madison-based group, created the tool.
Marquette University’s Law School crafted a document that may help. Click here to see it.
You can view the Legal Action of Wisconsin program here.
• 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- 895-7368
• Impact 211: 211