“An eviction is a red flag for a lot of landlords, and they simply won’t rent to folks who have an eviction on their record.”
Todd Serna lost his job with American Airlines at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
His household of six struggled to make rent for March. By the time they had it together, April’s rent was already due.
After a back-and-forth with their property managers and the court, Serna said his family was granted protection under the order.
Then, on March 24, Gov. Doug Ducey signed an order protecting Arizonans who had been financially impacted by the pandemic from being evicted.
But things changed when the property broker filed an injunction against Serna for allegedly threatening her. Serna denies doing this, but a judge ruled against him. The family was then evicted since the injunction violated their lease.
The Sernas are not alone—nearly 37,000 evictions have been filed in Phoenix since the beginning of the pandemic.
Having an eviction on record can make it harder to find future housing, but a bill from US Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix, could change that.
‘A Black Mark’
Eviction judgments show up on tenants’ consumer reports, which many landlords check before approving a new tenant. It can be difficult for people who have been evicted to find a landlord who will accept them, making it even harder for them to find future housing.
“An eviction is a red flag for a lot of landlords, and they simply won’t rent to folks who have an eviction on their record,” Jay Young, executive director of Southwest Fair Housing Council, explained. “So it really limits people’s housing choice because it’s like a black mark that keeps them out of housing.”
The COVID-19 Eviction Consumer Report Fairness Act would require credit reporting agencies to exclude evictions from reports if they occurred between March 13, 2020, and 120 days after the president ends the COVID-19 national emergency.
“The pandemic has caused so much financial hardship to millions of Americans. Without this important relief for renters, our credit reporting system could continue to needlessly punish hardworking families for years to come,” Stanton wrote in a press release.
A Blanket Protection
Stanton’s bill applies to those who have been evicted during the pandemic, regardless of the reason.
Orders to pause evictions issued by states and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are supposed to keep tenants financially impacted by COVID-19 in their homes.
But Matthew Waterman, managing attorney of Southern Arizona Legal Aid’s Consumer, Housing, Public Benefits unit, said it has been common for landlords to find reasons other than nonpayment to kick tenants out during the pandemic.
“A lot of [landlords] were alleging things like parking over the line, or even if you park in your own spot but there’s an oil stain underneath your car, or you put up a sign on the fence outside your mobile home that says ‘no trespassing,’ and your lease says you’re not allowed to put up signs, and people would try to evict for this,” Waterman said.
Waterman said he also regularly sees landlords and their attorneys in eviction cases accuse tenants of threatening them.
“It’s disingenuous,” he said. “We fight them all.”
Search for New Housing
As soon as their eviction troubles began, Serna and his family quickly started trying to find a new home that would allow their children to stay in the same school.
He found a house being rented by the owner. Despite the house having many applicants, Serna said he met with the owner and shared his story. And, “by the absolute grace of God,” he said, they were allowed to move in.
If this opportunity hadn’t come up, Serna said, “it would have been an absolute disaster. We were really facing homelessnes.”
Serna’s family was able to sign a two-year lease at their new place. He and his family set up a GoFundMe to try to gain some financial stability as they go through bankruptcy proceedings.
“Fortunately, we’re together. We’re healthy. We got the place that we needed to get into,” Serna said. “We’ve just really stuck together and have gotten a lot of support just from our core of six here.”
Serna said he hopes to see Stanton’s bill pass because it would help other families like his. The legislation was referred to the House Committee on Financial Services in early March, but no action has been taken on it since then.
“This wasn’t our fault. The pandemic was of no fault of ours,” Serna said. “There shouldn’t be anything negative or something that obviously is life-changing, like not being able to secure housing, because of an eviction record.”
Facing an eviction? See this page for some resources that may help.