Boston City Councillor Lydia Edwards and dozens of lawmakers want to make it easier for Massachusetts renters to seal court records pertaining to eviction proceedings, arguing that a "Scarlet E" after an eviction can prevent future leases and lead to homelessness.
Proponents say a bill before the Legislature would seal eviction cases between when they are filed and when an allegation is proven against a tenant. It would also seal all eviction records after three years and make it illegal for a landlord to use a sealed court record in determining a lease. Cases that result in a judgement against the tenant or which result in actual eviction would remain publicly available.
Edwards, a landlord herself, said many property owners don't realize that an eviction record is created the moment a case against a tenant is filed.
"The eviction record then is permanent and public for that tenant's life, no matter whether they have agreed to leave, no matter whether you have ultimately come to a conclusion, it doesn't matter, that person walks away with a scarlet letter 'E' for the rest of their life," Edwards told the Legislature's Judiciary Committee Tuesday.
Edwards is the sponsor of the bill along with House Assistant Majority Leader Michael Moran of Brighton and Winthrop Sen. Joe Bonacore. Edwards called the eviction records situation in Massachusetts a racial justice issue.
"This is a gender issue as well as a majority of people who are being evicted are women. Matter of fact, Black women are two and a half times more likely to be evicted and not be given a softer landing when dealing with the court system," Edwards said.
MassLandlords, a trade association for Massachusetts property owners and lessors, says the law is not needed since courts are already authorized to seal eviction documents in some cases.
"Eviction sealing advocates say that landlords have little or no legitimate purpose looking at eviction records," the group's website says. "On the contrary, landlords have an obligation to themselves and their existing renters to ensure that each new resident is likely to contribute to the community financially and in terms of following the rules."
The House and Senate bills are co-sponsored by 81 lawmakers — over 40% of the total Legislature — including 20 of the 40 senators and 61 of the 160 House members.