Some landlord-tenant cases are restricted from public view, and therefore from tenant screening agencies, by statute or court rule. One New Jersey statute prohibits landlords from disclosing certain information even if there was no court case. Even if information about a tenant’s history is accessible, reporting agencies have to safeguard against reporting inaccurate or incomplete information.
Statutes N.J.S.A. 2A:42-144 et seq. and N.J.S.A. 52:27D-287.9
Two laws protect the disclosure of tenant-related information arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic period. One restricts information available through the court; the other restricts information that a landlord can share.
Eviction complaints based upon nonpayment of rent or habitual late payment of rent from March 2020 through August 3, 2021, must be restricted from public view. This means that the court cannot provide this information to the general public. This is the result of a series of laws pertaining to the COVID-19 public health emergency. Regardless of the outcome of the case, there are penalties for knowingly disclosing information about such a court record. Also, a prospective landlord cannot consider such information when evaluating a potential tenant.
Whether or not an eviction complaint was filed, a landlord cannot share information about nonpayment of rent, late payment of rent, or failure to pay a rent increase that happened from March 1, 2020, through August 31, 2021. They cannot share this information with other landlords, debt collection, or credit reporting agencies. A landlord cannot refuse to rent to a tenant based upon such information. If a landlord breaks the law, either the Attorney General or the tenant can bring a lawsuit against the landlord. For a first violation, the court must give the landlord a chance to correct the violation. After that, if a landlord continues to break the law, a court can order the landlord to correct the violation, pay fines, pay the tenant’s actual damages, and pay the tenant’s attorney’s fees.
Court Rule 1:38-3(f)(11)
Except for cases covered by the prior section, all other landlord-tenant court cases are available to the public until there is a resolution. If the case is resolved where no judgment for possession ever enters, then the case will become restricted, meaning it will be protected from public view. Otherwise, the case may be available to the public, and therefore tenant screening agencies, for seven years.
Here are some examples:
Example 1: The case proceeds to trial on the first trial date. The judge hears both sides and decides to dismiss the case. There are no successful appeals and the decision does not change. No judgment has ever entered. The case must remain restricted from public view.
Example 2: A judgment for possession enters. A warrant for removal is issued. The tenant later becomes current with the rent, the case is dismissed, and the tenant gets to stay. The case may still be available for public view for seven years because a judgment entered.
Example 3: Before trial, the landlord and tenant enter into a “Settlement Agreement (Tenant to Stay in Premises)” and the parties check off “No Judgment for Possession is entered” on the form. See the form at www.njcourts.gov/sites/default/files/forms/10514_appndx_xi_v.pdf. The case will be restricted, and, if the tenant upholds the agreement, it will remain restricted.
If a tenant/applicant is rejected from affordable housing or denied a rent subsidy due to an eviction record, there may be grounds to successfully challenge the rejection or denial. It is best to seek legal assistance as soon as possible. In some cases, the time to appeal is limited.
How can I check to see if a case is restricted?
A prior eviction case is showing up on a tenant screening report, what can I do?
Some landlords may use tenant screening agencies to run background checks on a rental applicants. A tenant screening report may provide information on an applicant’s rental history, including eviction records, past addresses, Social Security verification, criminal history, etc. Landlords, realtors, and property managers may rely on these reports when deciding whether to rent to someone. It is possible that a reporting agency could have accessed information about an eviction file while the case was pending, even though the case is now confidential. That does not mean that you don’t have rights. If an eviction shows up on a tenant screening agency report, you still have rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act if the information is inaccurate, suggests something inaccurate, or is incomplete. You may have other rights against the landlord if you are denied a unit in violation of state and federal civil rights laws.
Here are some steps that you can take to try to correct the problem:
Step 1: Find out where the information came from. If the report came from a third party that is in the business of providing “consumer reports,” such as credit reports or tenant screening reports, then the business is a consumer reporting agency, and FCRA applies. A list of some of the larger tenant screening agencies can be found in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s List of Consumer Reporting Companies at s3.amazonaws.com/files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/cfpb_consumer-reporting-companies-list.pdf.
Step 2: Get a copy of the report. The decision to deny you an apartment constitutes an “adverse action.” Under FCRA, the landlord must give you the name, address, and telephone number of the agency that supplied the report. You have the right to contact the agency and obtain a free copy of the report.
Step 3: Review the report. You have the right to submit a “reinvestigation request” to the tenant screening agency to correct or delete inaccurate or obsolete information. In most cases, the agency cannot report negative information that is more than seven years old, or bankruptcies that are more than 10 years old. A consumer reporting agency must use reasonable procedures to ensure the maximum possible accuracy of the information contained in the report. Information on a consumer report may be “inaccurate” if it is potentially misleading. Even if what is on the report is true, it may be misleading if the information is not complete—for instance, if it does not include the outcome of the case. What is “inaccurate” is a developing area of case law, so it would be best to speak with an attorney for further guidance.
Step 4: Contact the Agency. You can submit a written request to the agency to correct or delete inaccurate, misleading, or obsolete information. Your letter should include the following:
Send your request by certified mail, return receipt requested. Keep a copy of your letter for your records. The reporting agency typically has 30 days to investigate the matter free of charge, unless they consider your dispute frivolous. Even if the correction is made, you may have grounds to sue if the agency did not use reasonable procedures to ensure the maximum possible accuracy of the information in the report.
Step 5: If the correction is not made… At a minimum, you can ask the company to include a brief summary, explaining why the information is disputed, in future reports. You can also submit a complaint to the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau (www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint) or the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov). You should consult an attorney to see if you have grounds to sue. Some consumer attorneys may take the case on a contingency fee basis. This means that you do not have to pay money up front and the attorney gets paid if you win the case or if it settles. A suit must be filed two years after you discover the violation, or five years after it occurs, whichever is earlier.
If you have any questions about a rent increase or are threatened with eviction, contact the LSNJLAWSM statewide toll-free Hotline, online at www.lsnjhotline.org or by calling 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529), or contact your local Legal Services program.
This information last reviewed: Mar 31, 2023