Innocent Washington Tenants get Blacklisted

Ignacio and Norma had a valid lease and did nothing to warrant eviction. They renewed their lease for an additional year. One month later a new landlord bought the apartment building.

The new landlord asked them to sign a new month-to-month rental agreement. The tenants refused, because the landlord was subject to the lease signed with the previous landlord. The new landlord sued Ignacio and Norma for eviction (“unlawful detainer” in legal-speak.)

The parties settled. Nevertheless, because their names showed up in an eviction in court records and consequently on credit reports, they had a hard time finding a new apartment even with a favorable reference from the landlord.

Ignacio and Norma moved to have their names redacted and replaced with their initials in the court docket. The court granted the motion, but the clerk opposed the court order, arguing that altering the indices was tantamount to destroying the records – contrary to court rules as well as the state’s constitutional guarantee of open court proceedings.

The case went up on appeal, eventually to the Washington Supreme Court. The Court agreed with the clerk, and ruled the trial court’s order was not proper.[1]

The dissenting justices questioned whether the clerk of the court has standing to challenge a court order. The dissent also concluded that the tenants had a compelling interest in obtaining housing without having their status as defendants in a dismissed unlawful detainer action used against them. The dissent found that the tenant’s interest outweighed the public interest in open court proceedings and records.

Nevertheless, a majority of the Court ruled that trial courts cannot redact the court docket to protect innocent tenants from the credit-reporting ramifications of even frivolous eviction actions. A landlord is still potentially subject to sanctions, as are all parties, if the landlord brings a frivolous action.But, the court cannot protect the tenant’s privacy interests.

By landlord-tenant attorney Travis Scott Eller


[1] Encarnacion v. King Co. Sp. Ct. Office of Judicial Administration, ____ W.2d ____ (No. 88036-1 July 24, 2014).