Since the state-wide pandemic eviction moratorium expired on June 30, 2021, eviction rates in Connecticut have increased dramatically and have consistently stayed above pre-pandemic eviction rates.
These rates peaked in March 2022 — at 70% higher than the average pre-pandemic rate — after Connecticut’s emergency rental assistance program, UniteCT, stopped taking new applications in February 2022. Although rates have since decreased somewhat, they are still above pre-pandemic levels. Even as recently as June, eviction filings across the state were almost 10% above pre-pandemic averages. This is especially pronounced in Bridgeport, where eviction filings were up 23% from pre-pandemic averages in August. Indeed, the CT Post reports Bridgeport public housing tenants are facing an “eviction tsunami.”
But these are all just numbers, abstract from what it looks and feels like on the ground. As a Yale School of Public Health graduate student, I spoke to many Bridgeport residents during my summer research internship about their eviction experiences during the pandemic. For many, evictions are more than just a routine court decision. It represents a loss of their home — their place in the world, their refuge, or, as author Sally Rooney puts it, “the setting for all the private dramas of their intimate lives.” Tenants and families are left without security, without a sense of community or place. Many, including children in evicted families, face the prospect of immediate and possibly prolonged homelessness.
This sudden shift in circumstances is especially jarring, as many of the residents I spoke to only began falling behind on rent due to the economic fallout of the pandemic. One person I talked to, Amelia (all names are pseudonyms), a 43-year-old woman residing in Bridgeport, spoke about how mentally draining and humiliating receiving eviction notices was: “I was drained. I was mentally drained. I was crying, distraught. I feel like crying right now just thinking about it because it just makes you feel so low. Because I’m a better person, it just makes you feel embarrassed because of your neighbors seeing the marshal coming, banging on the door.”
Later in the conversation, Amelia reveals she experienced a period of homelessness after her eviction and is still struggling to make ends meet.
Another person I spoke to, Brandy, a 52-year-old woman, describes how she had trouble sleeping and eating after her eviction: “Not sleeping, not eating, low self-esteem, feeling like God had abandoned me, feeling like Bridgeport was just like the devil because they really ain’t got no place to help nobody…”
Yet, beyond the insecurity and threat of homelessness are the stigma and barriers an eviction filing leaves. Even just having an eviction filed against you, let alone receiving an unfavorable court judgment, goes on your record for any future landlords to see.
In Connecticut, filings are typically available online for a year if the landlord withdraws the case or three years if a judgment is issued. This means even if a tenant wins their case or a landlord decides not to evict, the mere existence of the filing can present significant challenges for the tenant in the future. It’s a blemish that lingers and follows individuals and families. Indeed, in some cases, a person with the same or similar first and last names who lived at the address of someone who was evicted — for instance, a child who shares a first and last name with a parent — has later struggled to get housing. Correcting this mistake is often arduous and painstaking, and even when the erroneous record is updated, tenant screening companies that have already purchased the data may still have it in their system.
While S.B. 998, the omnibus housing bill recently passed by Connecticut’s legislature, offers new protections for tenants, it doesn’t go far enough.
These new protections include a mandate for the state’s Judicial Department to remove within 30 days online records and identifying information from eviction cases withdrawn, dismissed, or decided in favor of the tenant. The Judicial Department is also banned from including expunged records in sales or transfers of case data to tenant screening companies.
Granted, these are all much-needed changes to tenant rights, but they still don’t address the past records tenant screening companies have purchased that courts have already expunged. Nor do they address the administrative burden placed on tenants to remove these records in the first place.
While this bill represents a step forward, we must expand these protections to exclude current eviction filings from public view until the conclusion of court proceedings. Any cases resolved in favor of the tenant should then be immediately and automatically sealed by the court. Courts should also enact and enforce sanctions against tenant screening companies that provide false, misleading, or outdated records to prospective landlords. Lastly, eviction record sealing should be automated and streamlined, reducing the burden on tenants and court administrators.
For many, evictions are life-altering, and Connecticut needs to provide more support to families to prevent continued housing insecurity in the future. While S.B. 998 is an improvement, Connecticut can still do better. I urge the state legislature to push forward more protections related to tenant eviction records.
While the acute economic effects of the pandemic are subsiding, many individuals and families are still struggling to make ends meet. Given that Connecticut chose to provide shelter for the unhoused and create an emergency rental assistance fund to prevent evictions during the pandemic, we can continue to choose to protect and provide for vulnerable families post-pandemic.
Frank Zhu is a second second year graduate student at the Yale School of Public Health.