Gov. Jerry Brown signs bill protecting tenants from placement on ‘rental blacklists’

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Timothy Dawson/Staff

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Amid the housing crisis affecting the Bay Area, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law Tuesday that seeks to protect tenants from being placed on unlawful detainer registries.

The new bill, effective Jan. 1, allows tenants’ names to be released in public court records only if their landlords prevail in an eviction lawsuit within 60 days. Currently, tenants must win within 60 days or the lawsuit records are released to the public and their names are placed on a list, compiled by tenant screening companies, of tenants who have been involved in eviction proceedings.

Brendan Darrow, staff attorney for the Rent Stabilization Board in Berkeley, called these lists “rental blacklists” and said defendants in eviction cases are likely to end up on the blacklist until the law takes effect.

“The nutshell problem was that people as tenants were having hard choices in deciding to assert their legal right or protect their credit,” said Phil Hernandez, the author of the paper that inspired the bill. “Under the old rule, you couldn’t do both. This law that was signed by Gov. Brown takes away all those problems.”

Assistant professor of UC Berkeley School of Law Prasad Krishnamurthy called the law a “small but useful change” and said that though the law is a victory for tenants’ rights, it leaves the situation for landlords more ambiguous.

“(Landlords are getting) worse information on average, but when they do get information, it’s more precise,” Krishnamurthy said. “That one is sort of hard to work out. Landlords are probably worse off because they have less information.”

Hernandez, who is a graduate of Berkeley Law, said the new law does not prohibit a landlord from accurately assessing a renter’s application nor does it take away their resources for screening tenants — for instance, if a tenant loses an eviction lawsuit, their name still becomes public record.

Opponents of the bill believe that landlords, especially independent and local property owners, should be entitled to as much information as possible about prospective tenants and criticize the bill for a lack of transparency.  

President of the Berkeley Property Owners Association Sid Lakireddy said the law makes owning property in Berkeley more difficult. According to Lakireddy, the law is unfair to smaller owners who depend on rent for their income, as it makes it difficult to avoid leasing to tenants who have a history of not paying rent.

“Property owners will have to be more hands on and interview prospective tenants more carefully before making a decision on who to rent to,” Lakireddy said.

Contact Sakura Cannestra and Katherine Yen at [email protected].