How Long Does an Eviction Hurt Your Credit? Understanding California’s Laws
The dangers of an eviction can go far beyond losing one’s home. Your credit score going down could make it harder to get a credit card, mortgage, or car loan. A landlord hearing about an eviction might decide not to rent to you, or an employer might choose not to offer you a job. An eviction record can cast a long shadow and make life difficult for many years after that initial court summons. It only makes sense then to ask how long this record stays with you.
When a court enters a judgment in an eviction proceeding, which in California is called an unlawful detainer, it often awards damages in the form of unpaid rent. This is considered a debt, which, if reported to collections agencies, can reduce your credit score just like any other delinquent account. Some credit score models do not penalize you for debts sent to collections once they have been settled, but not all do so, which means that this could be with you for the entire seven years required for such a mark to fall off your credit history as required by 15 U.S.C. § 1681c(4).
Once an unlawful detainer complaint has been filed against you to begin an eviction case, the court typically masks it from public view. This is intended to give you an opportunity to find new housing and avoid getting an eviction on your record. However, once the judgment is entered, the record of eviction becomes unmasked by default. In California, this process is governed by Section 1161.2 of the Code of Civil Procedure.
There are multiple websites online that collect court records and make them searchable to the public for research purposes, usually requiring payment for full access to the information they have gathered. Other services collect court records for inclusion in public databases that can be searched for a fee as part of a background check product offered to customers who might want to know more about a stranger they are evaluating for some kind of relationship, like potential employers, lenders, in-laws, or landlords. These services usually advertise their thoroughness as a feature and are less likely to remove information without good reason but are required to comply with the procedures set forth in the Fair Credit Reporting Act and are, like credit reports required to remove information more than seven years old as required by 15 U.S.C. § 1681c(3).
In conclusion, if your potential property manager or landlord only ever runs a credit check when you apply to rent from them, you are only in trouble if your previous landlord sent your unpaid rent to collections. If, however, you work with someone who uses a specialized service that performs a background check based on court records, and that eviction case was never sealed, then you may have to explain why there is an eviction on your record for seven years, assuming you get a chance to explain at all. This makes it even more important to be mindful of your rights as a tenant, be sure to follow all procedural requirements, and contact a tenant attorney whenever something your landlord does anything that might impact your housing security.