Legal Action of Wisconsin has filed a petition with the state Supreme Court calling for changes to Wisconsin’s policies governing small claims and eviction-record retention.
The petition comes a year after the Director of State Courts filed Rule Petition 20-08, for which Legal Action sent a letter of support with additional modifications to SCR 72. The modifications were not adopted, though.
Legal Action, a non-profit firm based in Milwaukee, is asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to amend SCR 72.01(8), 72.01(9) and 72.01(10), relating to the retention of files, court records and minute records in small-claims cases, requesting to shorten the record-retention period for eviction cases in which no money judgment is entered to one year.
SCR 72.01 (8), (9) and (10) currently allow record retention for “20 years after entry of final order or judgment for all cases, including contested cases, stipulated dismissals and default judgments; except 2 years from date of entry of judgment for cases dismissed because issue was not joined and the case was not disposed of by judgment or stipulation within 6 months from the original return date.”
Legal Action’s modifications would change the language to read “(a) 1 year after entry of final order or judgment for all eviction cases in which no judgment for money is entered against any party, including contested cases, stipulated dismissals, and default judgments; (b) 2 years from date of entry of judgment for small claims cases dismissed because issue was not joined and the case was not disposed of by judgment or stipulation within 6 months from the original return date; (c) 20 years after entry of final order or judgment for all other small claims cases not specified above in (a) or (b).”
According to the memorandum, “Retaining eviction records in which no money judgment is entered for only one year strikes the appropriate balance between preserving the rights of all litigants and protecting renters against the devastating effects of having any eviction action – even a dismissed one – associated with their name.”
Under Wis. Stat. § 66.0104(2)(a)1.e, landlords may take any eviction court record into consideration when screening an applicant, including decades-old cases and those that never resulted in a judgment.
In 2019, 27,026 eviction cases were filed and only 4,264 secured judgements. In 2020, 19,427 eviction filings were submitted and 2,254 judgements were entered. The following year saw 17,727 eviction filings and 1,737 judgements. With January and February 2022 combined, Wisconsin has seen 4,672 eviction filings and only 277 judgements.
The petition furnished various arguments for the proposed changes in addition to the eviction statistics, citing racial housing disparities, balances in open records laws and a decrease in administrative burden.
Petition 22-03 is now before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, awaiting a response or hearing schedule.