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The New Jersey Supreme Court is asking for written comment on a proposed rules change that would prevent the release of old eviction documents, a bid to avoid continually impacting once-troubled renters.
The proposed rule would block the disclosure of documents in cases more than seven years old where a judgment for possession was issued. After a judge issues a judgment for possession, landlords can file paperwork to evict a tenant.
The proposed rule is part of the judiciary’s push to defray hardships that old court proceedings may inflict on disadvantaged residents.
“Landlords should have access to relevant information about a prospective tenant,” said Judge Glenn Grant, the courts’ administrative director. “At the same time, in the interests of equity, dated information regarding tenants should not create indefinite obstacles to rental housing.”
Landlords often check prospective tenants’ rental history, and may be less likely to offer a lease to a tenant who has previously been evicted.
The proposed change comes as landlord-tenant cases have surged during the pandemic. Virus-related restrictions have kept many such cases from being heard, and the court’s backlog has swelled as a result, rising from 23,917 cases in March 2020 to 94,963 in November, the latest month for which backlog data is available.
The 47,351 backlogged special civil cases — which include landlord-tenant cases — account for the largest share of cases still waiting to be heard, though the courts have cleared roughly 6,000 special civil cases since July.
There are roughly 1.3 million rental housing units in the state, according to Census Bureau data.
The high court in September 2020 issued a similar call for comment on a rule that would shield records related to landlord-tenant cases where no judgment was reached — or where a judgment was reached and later tossed — from public disclosure.
Rules stemming from that proposal would be enacted separately, the court said in a notice to the New Jersey State Bar.
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