Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Public eviction records place tenants’ rights at risk

Celia Hiorns

Long-term availability of eviction records reduces housing opportunities, perpetuates systemic injustice

Legal Action of Wisconsin, a tenant advocacy group, is imploring the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reduce the retainment of eviction records from online case files from 20 years to one year, according to PBS Wisconsin. Currently, state law only requires the expungement of dismissed eviction cases after two years. Even so, the mere filing of a dismissed eviction taints tenants’ records for an alarming 20 years, according to the Tenant Resource Center.

In an interview with PBS Wisconsin, housing priority coordinator for Legal Action of Wisconsin Carmen Ayers tenants’ eviction records are the primary factor landlords use to select tenants. Because landlords rarely examine the details of eviction records, incorrectly filed or dismissed evictions can still taint individuals’ records.


What does this mean for tenants? Wisconsin Apartment Association legislative affairs director told PBS Wisconsin that only tenants with a repeated history of eviction and failure to pay associated fees are negatively impacted by the public availability of eviction records.

But this simply isn’t the case.

Planned Parenthood resuming operations big step in right direction for people with uteri

Milwaukee resident Larry Jones faced his first eviction in 2021. In an interview with Milwaukee Fox6 News, Jones said he was left without shelter for eight months after his eviction as landlords would not accept tenants with any evictions in the past ten years.

Jones is not alone in losing access to shelter due to the public availability of eviction records. Briana Shipp was illegally evicted in 2016, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Despite the eventual dismissal of her case, the eviction citation remained on her record, according to the Sentinel. As a result, Shipp and her three children were unable to find housing for the next three months. It was in these three months that she lost her infant child with severe health issues.

Eviction records clearly strip individuals from a basic human right, pointing to an urgent need to expunge them. This policy change is extremely critical for marginalized groups who are particularly vulnerable to evictions.

A 2014 study found Black women in Milwaukee were evicted at three times the rate of white women. The report attributes this disparity to racial and social bias and wage inequities that are detrimental to Black women’s economic stability. This leads to a cascade of negative effects. According to KQED, individuals that are evicted are more likely to only find housing only in disadvantaged neighborhoods with high crime rates. Evictions clearly play a major role in racial segregation in housing.

UW program for first-generation students long overdue

It is simply unjust to punish tenants for the racial prejudice that is embedded into our society. For instance, Milwaukee’s current lead poisoning epidemic is disproportionately affecting the children of Black tenants, according to Wisconsin Public Radio. When tenants are forced to rehouse due to lead poisoning in their apartments, they are unable to pay rent and are evicted as a result.

Such racial health disparities not only lead to public health crises, but also leave a last mark on tenants’ eviction records. This can lead to a systemic pipeline from eviction to homelessness.

The inequity in eviction rates not only stems from the gender- and race-based discrimination that have plagued our country since its birth, but also seem to perpetuate these injustices. Expunging eviction records would prevent the post-eviction downward spiral by providing people with a chance to regain economic stability without discrimination. As a result, expungement of records may even reduce the repeat evictions individuals face.

Some individuals already utilize private legal services to expunge their records, according to PBS Wisconsin. A small number are served through free legal services provided by organizations like Legal Action of Wisconsin.

But tenants facing eviction are generally economically disadvantaged, so a large majority of tenants are not able to clear their records. Ayers said expungement of eviction records would not only level the playing field for all economic groups, but would also eliminate the number of expungement cases courts are burdened with.

Wisconsin’s regressive policies surrounding cash bail exacerbate inequalities

Opponents of the policy proposal, like Mokler, are concerned with the magnification of landlords’ financial risk if they can no longer use eviction history to select tenants. He said individuals who repeatedly miss payments are a liability for both the landlord and other tenants. But, there are certainly alternative — and possibly more accurate — measures that landlords can use to screen tenants, such as employment history.

According to The Cap Times, many individuals have experienced interruptions in perfect rental histories from emergency expenses, — such as medical bills — not a history of economic irresponsibility, as some landlords imply. These individuals would not be barred from housing if landlords were to focus on their past rental history and employment history instead of basing their decisions solely on eviction records.

With the current uncertainty in the Wisconsin Supreme Court due to the possible impeachment of Justice Janet Protasiewicz and the drastic nature of the policy change, it seems unlikely eviction records will be expunged. In the meantime, there are still steps to take to reduce the barrier to housing for tenants.

For instance, the National Low Income Housing Coalition suggests requiring landlords to provide a written description of why they are refusing a tenant. This could force landlords to investigate eviction histories beyond the surface and reduce discrimination in tenant screening.

But ultimately, systemic policy changes must be prioritized to ensure eviction records are not barring Wisconsinites from the basic right of access to housing.

Aanika Parikh ([email protected]) is a sophomore studying molecular and cell biology.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *