This article has been updated.

The Texas Supreme Court has extended the state’s eviction diversion program through November while expanding renters’ ability to protect their eviction records.

The court’s emergency order, issued last week, keeps eviction records confidential for tenants who have pending applications for rental assistance. Previously, that confidentiality only applied when a landlord submitted an application for rental assistance on behalf of their tenant.

“We’re happy to hear about the new order from the Texas Supreme Court and the peace of mind this will bring San Antonio tenants experiencing COVID-19 related hardships,” said Veronica Soto, director of the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department.

The city’s housing department requested the confidentiality change, given that eviction court records can lead to a tenant’s inability to find housing. Federal law allows tenant screening companies to access and report eviction filings and judgments for up to seven years.

The Texas Eviction Diversion Program aims to reduce the possible surge of evictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides landlords and tenants a voluntary opportunity to resolve rent disputes before an eviction occurs. Both parties must agree to participate in order to qualify.

The U.S. Supreme Court blocked a national eviction moratorium in August, allowing evictions for non-payment to continue.

The emergency order, which expires Dec. 1, allows an eviction proceeding to be delayed for 60 days and seals court records for participants in the program while the landlord and tenant apply for rental assistance. Eviction records remain sealed permanently if the landlord and tenant participate in assistance programs.

Courts must also allow legal aid providers to be present in court to provide assistance for eligible tenants.

The city’s Emergency Housing Assistance Program and the Texas Rent Relief program have already allocated millions of dollars to thousands of Bexar County residents, allowing them to stay in their homes. Those funds are expected to last through at least the end of the year.

The City of San Antonio submitted a grant application earlier this month to the federal government, seeking up to $3 million to further bolster its eviction prevention programs.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org