Some of our clients have noticed that when they run an applicant’s credit, eviction judgments do not appear on the credit report, even when the client knows that an eviction judgment exists. For example, an applicant recently visited one of our clients’ offices and asked to be considered for residency. The manager took his application and ran his credit and criminal background, but then realized that she recognized him—he had been the subject of an immediate eviction just a few years prior for stealing property from other residents. To the manager’s surprise, the eviction judgment (despite the fact that it included a monetary portion) did not appear on the applicant’s credit report.

On July 1, 2017, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion (the three major credit reporting companies) started enforcing stricter rules regarding the public records they collect. They now require that every public record they collect and report include the subject’s name, address, and either a Social Security number or date of birth. Yet, nearly all civil judgments obtained—particularly eviction action judgments—do not include such information. In fact, other laws prohibit judgments and other court pleadings from including Social Security numbers and other personally identifying information. The result is that most eviction judgments no longer appear on applicants’ credit reports. Most other types of civil judgments will also not appear.

So, why did these changes happen? A couple of years ago, the attorneys general of 31 states joined forces and began a multistate investigation of the major credit bureau’ reporting practices. That investigation (in which Arizona participated) led to a settlement that required the credit bureaus to pay those states $6 million, and to take steps to reduce credit reporting errors. Refraining from reporting judgments that cannot be tied to a consumer through a Social Security number or full date of birth was one of those steps.

How, then, can a housing provider attempting to determine whether an applicant meets its credit criteria verify whether that applicant has civil judgments (including eviction judgments) against him or her? First, check with your screening company to determine what information they are reporting on. It is possible that your company is in contact the courts directly to determine if there are evictions. If they are not, then you as the owner should undertake that process. In Arizona, housing providers can search some Arizona court records. Unfortunately, when an applicant has a common name, it is difficult to tell whether a judgment found on a court website actually pertains to that applicant. Until better answers are found, problems verifying eviction information will be difficult.

By Mark B. Zinman, Attorney
Williams, Zinman & Parham P.C. (Zona Law Group)