By Bob Katzen

The House gave initial approval to a bill that would allow a defendant in a housing eviction case to have the records of the case sealed unless the landlord wins on the merits or a tenant breaks an agreement and is evicted by a constable. The measure needs additional approval by the House before it goes to the Senate for consideration.

Supporters explained that under current law, as soon as an eviction case is filed by a landlord, a tenant has a permanent “eviction record” regardless of whether the tenant did anything wrong or was actually evicted. They argued that the mere fact that a tenant was party to an eviction or housing case is being unfairly held against them when they try to rent a new place.

They said they are deeply concerned about the unrestricted availability of eviction records and the impact this has on people’s ability to obtain housing, credit and employment, now and in the future. Many cases are decades old and the information is obsolete but the records are publicly available forever regardless of the outcome of the case.

“The [bill] is about making sure people can have a second chance,” said Senate sponsor Sen. Lydia Edwards (D-Boston). “It’s about removing permanent barriers to housing and allowing people to have a fresh start. It makes no sense that people can seal misdemeanor and felony records but can’t seal an eviction record. This is a tool to help us recover from this pandemic and any other economic downturn more equitably.”

Rep. Mike Moran (D-Brighton), the House sponsor of the bill, did not respond to repeated requests from Beacon Hill Roll Call for a comment.

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