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SALT LAKE CITY — In today's competitive housing market, having an eviction show up during a background check can make it significantly harder to find a home to rent. Until a bill went into effect last month, it was rare in Utah to have that eviction ever erased from a record, so it could follow a person for a long time.
However, people who have been evicted now have a few relatively simple ways to get that eviction completely wiped from their records thanks to HB359, which went into effect on July 1. This process, known as an expungement, will take the eviction off of the court's record so it no longer shows up on background checks.
In a Zoom presentation on Thursday, representatives from advocacy organizations including the Utah Housing Coalition talked about the need for this law and the process people can use to apply for an eviction expungement.
"Evictions displace people from their homes; and in a housing market like Utah's where there's very low vacancy and rents continue to rise, being evicted can make it even harder to find alternative housing when you are removed from a property," said Danielle Stevens, executive director of People's Legal Aid.
Stevens said the majority of evictions in Utah are due to a tenant not paying rent.
Pamela Beatse, with the Utah State Bar Access to Justice Commission, said tenants previously had the ability to use some court rules not designed for evictions to achieve an expungement but the process was not streamlined. Now, there is readily available information and specific directions for eviction expungements.
"(An eviction) is completely blotted out once it's approved by the court," Beatse said.
Some evictions are now taken off a person's record automatically — if it is three years after the case was dismissed or if the landlord and tenant agree for the eviction to be expunged in a legal filing, known as a stipulation.
Anyone who does not fit the categories for automatic expungement can file a petition asking the court for an expungement of their eviction case and give the court proof that they completed the terms of the judge's ruling and paid what was owed to their landlord. If the former landlord doesn't contest the tenant's request for an expungement after 60 days, the court will decide whether to expunge the record. If the former landlord objects, however, the court denies the request.
Beatse said there are some types of evictions that are not eligible for automatic expungement or expungement through petition; these include when someone is evicted based on being a nuisance, failing to follow community rules, being a disruptive or dangerous tenant, or using the property for something it is not meant for including running a business or subletting.
Beatse said this expungement process is still brand new and hasn't been litigated, so there are still a lot of questions.
One question that panelists did not have an answer to is what happens when an eviction that was expunged still shows up on a background check. Beaste explained a list will be published showing the companies that do the background checks which evictions have been expunged and need to be taken off the record within 30 days. But if they have not been removed, the person may have to take additional legal action.
The court website has a page where people can go through their personal circumstances and see what the best path toward eviction expungement would be for them.
How will this impact landlords?
Beaste said there are already protections for landlords in place in the statute. For example, the case needs to be satisfied or dismissed before it is expunged and nuisance evictions are exempt from automatic expungement.
"All of those layers that are built into the statute are intended to protect landlords against tenants that are not stable or able to pay their rent," Beaste said.
She said although this statute has only been in effect a little over a month, they have already had many situations where clients are representing themselves in an eviction case and the landlord's lawyer has been very willing to include an expungement in the stipulation, especially where there have not been repeated evictions on one tenant's record.
"Just keep in mind that ... thus far, there has not been heavy resistance against agreeing to (expungements) in appropriate circumstances," she said.
She said there are valid reasons for a landlord to not agree to an expungement, like when there have been multiple evictions or when a tenant is considered a danger to other tenants.