There is, but it is rarely granted. The general rule under California law is that court eviction records become public and available to credit reporting companies unless a tenant “prevails” in the eviction case within 60 days.
Specifically, under California Code of Civil Procedure section 1161.2, unlawful detainer case information is not available to the public for the first 60 days after filing, and for unlawful detainer cases filed after January 1, 2004, this section further requires that the case remain unavailable in the event any defendant “prevails” during this 60 day period.
Although California law allows the masking of unlawful detainer records when the tenant prevails, if the unlawful detainer case is dismissed, the tenant never technically "prevails" and thus the records can be released.
In California, motions to seal records in both civil and criminal cases are governed by California Rules of Court, Rules 2.550 et seq.
Under California law, unless confidentiality is required, court records are presumed to be open to the public. (CRC 2.550(c).) An agreement by the parties to file documents under seal is therefore insufficient. Such an arrangement “is entirely inconsistent with the mandatory requirements of rules 2.550 and 2.551 and the constitutional values informing those requirements.” (Savaglio v. Wal–Mart Stores, Inc. (2007) 149 Cal.App.4th 588, 600. )
In order to seal records, the court must “expressly find facts that establish:
(1) There exists an overriding interest that overcomes the right of public access to the record;
(2) The overriding interest supports sealing the record;
(3) A substantial probability exists that the overriding interest will be prejudiced if the record is not sealed;
(4) The proposed sealing is narrowly tailored; and
(5) No less restrictive means exist to achieve the overriding interest.”
California Rules of Court, Rule 2.550(d).
This rule and Rule 2.551 provide a standard and procedures for courts to use when a request is made to seal a record. The standard is based on NBC Subsidiary (KNBC-TV), Inc. v. Superior Court (1999) 20 Cal.4th 1178. These rules apply to civil and criminal cases. They recognize the First Amendment right of access to documents used at trial or as a basis of adjudication. The rules do not apply to records that courts must keep confidential by law. Examples of confidential records to which public access is restricted by law are records of the family conciliation court (Family Code, § 1818(b)), in forma pauperis applications (Cal. Rules of Court, rules 3.54 and 8.26), and search warrant affidavits sealed under People v. Hobbs (1994) 7 Cal.4th 948. The sealed records rules also do not apply to discovery proceedings, motions, and materials that are not used at trial or submitted to the court as a basis for adjudication. (See NBC Subsidiary, supra, 20 Cal.4th at pp. 1208-1209, fn. 25.)
Frank W. Chen has been licensed to practice law in California since 1988. The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice for a particular case. This posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, consult with your own attorney.