PA House, Senate Dem Policy Committees convene joint hearing on eviction sealing

Sealing eviction records would lead to protections for tenants, fair housing

WILKINSBURG, Feb. 15 – The Pennsylvania House and Senate Democratic Policy Committees teamed up for a joint hearing Thursday morning to gather testimony on the need for eviction sealing in Pennsylvania.

State Reps. Ismail Smith-Wade-El (D-Lancaster) and Abigail Salisbury (D-Allegheny) co-hosted the hearing with state Sens. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), Katie Muth (D- Berks), Judy Schwank (D-Berks) and Nikil Saval (D-Philadelphia) at the Wilkinsburg Municipal Building in Allegheny County following a press conference on the same topic.

The hearing featured seven testifiers across three panels, who discussed the impact of evictions on Pennsylvania families, the importance of fair housing in our communities, and the legal implications of not sealing eviction records. In many cases, testifiers say, eviction filings follow a person around for years, regardless of whether they were convicted. This makes it extremely difficult to find housing in the future, creating situations where vulnerable people are left on the streets.

“An eviction can stay on a person’s record for years and ruin their chances of finding housing – even if the eviction was caused by domestic violence or other circumstances beyond their control, and even if they were found blameless or the case was dropped,” Salisbury said. “It’s a vicious cycle that perpetuates inequity, and it needs to end. In the months ahead, we’ll be working to pass our bill that would seal these records in cases like no-fault evictions.”

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 280,000 eviction cases have been filed in Pennsylvania. That’s according to Holly Beck, Divisional Supervising Attorney for Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. Beck said she’s represented many cases where tenants received an eviction filing for missing rent, even though documents show a payment was never missed. After being falsely accused and spending hours in court, tenants still carry those eviction filings with them. It’s a situation, Beck said, that’s impacting certain people more than others.

“Across Pennsylvania, landlords disproportionately file eviction cases against households of color, people with disabilities, and women. More than anyone else, the community that is filed most against everywhere is Black women raising small children,” said Beck.

Smith-Wade-El has been a staunch housing advocate since his election to the Pennsylvania House in 2022. In addition to co-hosting Thursday’s hearing on eviction sealing, he’s gearing up to introduce legislation on the topic. His proposal calls for a statewide eviction record sealing policy, preventing eviction records from haunting tenants for years and leading to more housing security.

“There are people in this commonwealth who are being denied housing because of evictions that never actually happened. We have created a system that’s hurting people we should be helping. That’s both bad and easy to fix,” said Smith-Wade-El. “Limiting access to eviction records would protect tenants from discrimination and help them secure long-term housing in the future. It’s a simple solution to a harmful situation.”

More information about Thursday’s joint House and Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing can be found here.