Understanding AB 2304: Protecting Tenants or Shielding Problem Renters?

Assemblyman Alex Lee, representing San Jose, has introduced Assembly Bill 2304 (AB 2304) with the aim of broadening existing protections that conceal eviction filings, thus aiding tenants in sidestepping negative credit reports. Currently, California law only applies such safeguards to “limited” civil cases with claims under $35,000. However, AB 2304 seeks to extend these masking provisions to encompass all eviction cases, regardless of the claim amount.

The original intention behind the “masking” law was to safeguard both landlords and tenants from unscrupulous attorneys who encouraged renters to resort to bankruptcy as a means to avoid paying overdue rent. While the law has evolved to offer protection to tenants’ credit, the California Apartment Association (CAA) argues that it was never intended to shield individuals with substantial unpaid rent, sometimes amounting to tens of thousands of dollars.

In a letter opposing AB 2304, the CAA contends that while cases classified as “unlimited” (exceeding $35,000) are infrequent and typically reserved for the most egregious offenders, imposing additional masking procedures for such cases could unnecessarily burden the courts. These cases often involve tenants who have accumulated significant unpaid rent and are aided by what the association describes as “predatory system-gaming” lawyers, who assist them in evading eviction and dodging their financial obligations.

CAA emphasizes that concealing such cases could enable problematic tenants to obscure their rental history from future landlords. Landlords have a legitimate interest in knowing about substantial financial delinquencies before entering into lease agreements. By potentially shielding this critical information, AB 2304 might inadvertently expose rental housing providers to undue risks.

The debate surrounding AB 2304 underscores the delicate balance between protecting tenants from unfair treatment and ensuring landlords have access to pertinent information necessary for sound decision-making. While the bill seeks to shield tenants from the adverse consequences of eviction filings, critics argue that it may inadvertently enable problematic renters to evade accountability and perpetuate a cycle of non-payment.

As AB 2304 progresses through the legislative process, stakeholders on both sides will continue to voice their concerns and advocate for their respective positions. Ultimately, the outcome of this debate will have significant implications for both tenants and landlords across California.