St. Petersburg, FL – Gulfcoast Legal Services (GLS) successfully moved to seal an eviction case from a client’s public record. The motion was filed in light of the impact the pandemic has had on housing procedures for low-income households and people of color in the Tampa Bay area.
“Luis,” a senior living off a small social security income, came to GLS in April at the height of the stay at home orders. His landlord had recently sold the apartment building he lived in and wanted it empty. Luis had nowhere to go and was having difficulty finding a new place, so the landlord decided to file an eviction against him, despite the eviction moratorium.
Pinellas County housing attorney for GLS, William, negotiated with the landlord to get Luis extra time to find a new place. He was able to get Luis an extra month and all penalties and late fees associated with the extra month’s stay waived.
Luis was very thankful to have the extra time to move, but he now faced the issue of having an eviction on his record. In Florida, evictions stay on court records permanently and on credit reports for seven years, seriously hindering a person’s ability to find new housing and negatively affecting their credit. The rules often disproportionately impact people of color and those in low-income households. The pandemic, in particular, has had documented impacts on these communities which are compounded by housing and eviction procedures.
“Under the Florida Constitution, court records are public records (Article I Section 24(a)). If an eviction is filed, even if it is dismissed before even being served on a defendant, that court record of an eviction is in the court records and, in most counties, publicly searchable on the internet. The cascade of evictions which is sure to follow once the moratoriums are lifted will stain the credit reports of countless people.”
– Report to the United Nations Special Rapporteur regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the right to housing, drafted by William Peña Wells, GLS housing attorney
William drafted a motion to make the eviction record confidential so credit companies and rental agencies could not see it. Both parties had settled amicably and keeping the eviction public would create irrevocable harm to Luis. After the opposing party agreed to the motion, the Pinellas County courts sealed the eviction, making it confidential.
About Gulfcoast Legal Services
Gulfcoast Legal Services, Inc. (GLS) is a regional 501(c)3 non-profit organization providing free, comprehensive civil legal aid through counsel, advice, representation, advocacy, and education for vulnerable individuals and families in the greater Tampa Bay area. GLS is dedicated to serving vulnerable individuals living in poverty, low-wage workers, persons with disabilities, veterans, the homeless, victims of domestic violence or human trafficking, the LGBTQ+ community, and the elderly who otherwise may not have access to an attorney. For more information, visit: http://gulfcoastlegal.org.