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Cleveland housing judge seals eviction records for renters, offering hope and second chances

Posted April 6, 2019
4:42 pm

By John Caniglia in The Plain Dealer on 4/6/19

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The nurse walked out of Cleveland Housing Court on Friday with tears of joy welling in her eyes, relieved and hopeful that her financial future just got a lot better.

She was one of the first people in Ohio to have her eviction records sealed under a new court rule, which means her case will no longer appear online or be available from the clerk’s office.

In simple terms, it means landlords will not be able to see old eviction records from those who successfully petitioned to have their records sealed. Last year, about 8,500 people in Cleveland were evicted.

“This is huge,’’ the woman said after a brief hearing before Judge Ronald O’Leary. “I’m so emotional right now. Wow. I went through a really tough time for about 1½ years. But you learn from those experiences.’’

O’Leary put the new rule into effect in January to make it easier for tenants to seal eviction records. Court officials said they believe it is a first in the state.

The judge said he wanted to balance the needs of landlords to screen potential tenants with giving tenants a chance to move on from a rough patch in their lives.

“Who hasn’t had financial difficulties at some point?’’ O’Leary said before the hearing.

Under the new rule, a judge must find that sealing the record is in the interest of justice and outweighs government and public interest in having the record remain public.

A record can be sealed quickly if an eviction case is dismissed by a judge during the hearing process or if the tenant prevails. It also can be sealed if there is a written settlement agreement between the landlord and tenant.

One of the more common situations is similar to that of the nurse from Cleveland. She was evicted in 2011. She had no other record of problems in the past five years, and she described losing her job and the death of a child as reasons for her financial issues.

Five years must have passed since tenants last had an eviction granted against them, and they must demonstrate “extenuating circumstances” led to an eviction.

“The process is wonderful,’’ said Sara Bird of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, after she represented a woman before O’Leary. “It allows people a fresh start and better access to housing.’’

It does more than that, court officials said. Employers and credit agencies also scour eviction records for information.

A tenant seeking to seal the eviction record must pay a $25 fee and must notify the landlord who sought the case about the motion to seal.

“It’s a giant step in giving people a new start,’’ said Jerome Krakowski, the chief housing specialist for the housing court.

Those with questions on the process can call the housing court at 216-664-4295

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