The SCOMIS Blacklist:   How unfettered public access to unlawful detainer records impacts access to justice in Washington ...
“ Eviction” Records in Washington <ul><li>SCOMIS  </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Case management system for 39 superior courts </li...
Inclusions & SCOMIS-sions <ul><li>SCOMIS contains: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Party names, filing date, case type </li></ul></u...
 
Why is SCOMIS a problem for tenants? <ul><li>A SCOMIS record is  permanent </li></ul><ul><li>A SCOMIS record is  free </li...
 
D.I.Y. Tenant-Screening
Chilling Effect <ul><li>That residential landlords routinely deny housing to applicants with unlawful detainer records det...
“ The Unhouseables” <ul><li>“… the increasingly popular use of tenant screening reports has resulted in  a new class of pe...
<ul><li>Sealing/Redacting court records </li></ul><ul><ul><li>GR 15(c): court may seal or redact a court record (civil or ...
Sealing/Redacting SCOMIS <ul><li>Sealed documents removed from view  </li></ul><ul><li>But, existence of action remains av...
Should courts more readily seal/redact unlawful detainer records from SCOMIS? <ul><li>Yes, because: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>...
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UD Records 5 17 2010

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Presentation on how Washington court record systems are often used as blacklists that unfairly keep rental applications from obtaining housing.

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UD Records 5 17 2010

  1. 1. The SCOMIS Blacklist: How unfettered public access to unlawful detainer records impacts access to justice in Washington <ul><li>Eric Dunn, Staff Attorney </li></ul><ul><li>Northwest Justice Project </li></ul><ul><li>401 Second Ave. S., Ste. 407 </li></ul><ul><li>Seattle, Washington 98104 </li></ul><ul><li>Tel. (206) 464-1519, ext. 234 </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul>
  2. 2. “ Eviction” Records in Washington <ul><li>SCOMIS </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Case management system for 39 superior courts </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Launched in 1977, practically statewide by 1985 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Data entered by court clerk upon case filing </li></ul></ul>
  3. 3. Inclusions & SCOMIS-sions <ul><li>SCOMIS contains: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Party names, filing date, case type </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Eviction appears as “unlawful detainer” </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Docket entries (recent cases only) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Cases archived after 18 months </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Appear on a separate screen </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Often cryptic, not informative of case outcome </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>SCOMIS does not contain: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Case outcome/disposition </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Access to actual documents </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Docket entries of archived cases </li></ul></ul>
  4. 5. Why is SCOMIS a problem for tenants? <ul><li>A SCOMIS record is permanent </li></ul><ul><li>A SCOMIS record is free </li></ul><ul><li>A SCOMIS record can be accessed from anywhere in the world (by internet) </li></ul><ul><li>Any person can access a SCOMIS record </li></ul><ul><li>Many residential landlords in Washington refuse to rent to applicants with unlawful detainer records in SCOMIS </li></ul>
  5. 7. D.I.Y. Tenant-Screening
  6. 8. Chilling Effect <ul><li>That residential landlords routinely deny housing to applicants with unlawful detainer records deters tenants from contesting unlawful detainer actions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Ability to secure housing in the future more important than one particular tenancy </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Tenants commonly move out after receiving unfiled summons & complaint, rather than remain and allow landlord to file suit </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Effectively undermines many tenant rights </li></ul><ul><ul><li>RLTA can only be enforced judicially </li></ul></ul>
  7. 9. “ The Unhouseables” <ul><li>“… the increasingly popular use of tenant screening reports has resulted in a new class of people who are unable to access rental housing because of past credit problems, evictions, poor rental histories or criminal backgrounds. While tenant screening agencies are not responsible for this issue, it is a serious problem that must be addressed by those working with tenants, particularly those in need of affordable housing.” </li></ul><ul><li>HousingLink, “Tenant screening agencies in the Twin Cities: An overview of tenant screening practices and their impact on renters,” Summer 2004 </li></ul>
  8. 10. <ul><li>Sealing/Redacting court records </li></ul><ul><ul><li>GR 15(c): court may seal or redact a court record (civil or criminal) to protect a person’s safety or privacy </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>But, access to court records constitutionally protected </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Thus, sealing a court record extremely difficult: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Privacy/safety interest must be “compelling” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Must outweigh public interest in access to the record </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Court must hold hearing, exercise original discretion </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Order to seal must be narrowly-tailored </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Extent of records sealed, duration of order limited </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Seldom realistic to seal record pro se </li></ul>Sealing/Redacting Court Records
  9. 11. Sealing/Redacting SCOMIS <ul><li>Sealed documents removed from view </li></ul><ul><li>But, existence of action remains available </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Case number, party names, notation ‘case sealed,’ case type, and cause of action/charge </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Possibility of redacting SCOMIS recognized by Indigo Real Estate Services v. Rousey, 151 Wn. App. 941; 215 P.3d 977 (2009) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Preserving rental housing opportunities potentially is a compelling privacy interest sufficient to support redaction </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>No statutory right to deny existence of case </li></ul>
  10. 12. Should courts more readily seal/redact unlawful detainer records from SCOMIS? <ul><li>Yes, because: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Chilling effect on tenants undermines access to justice </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Public policy in access to rental housing is more important than economic interests of private housing providers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>SCOMIS is not designed or maintained for use as a tenant-screening implement and should not be appropriated for such use </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Tenant-screening reports are commercial speech and the government has important interests that justify curtailment </li></ul></ul><ul><li>No, because: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Other alternatives, such as limitations on the reporting of unlawful detainer suits or the use of same in rental decisions, are possible </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Unconditional access to public records is more important than tenants’ rights or rental housing access </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Other ideas (pro/con)? </li></ul>

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