Fighting with your landlord is never fun, and if you end up in court, you could lose more than time and money. A judgment against you -- whether because you owe back rent, are evicted or caused serious damage to the landlord's property -- can adversely affect your credit.
Lawsuits and Judgments
If you lose a lawsuit with your landlord and are required to pay money, the order mandating payment is called a judgment. Judgments are routinely reported to credit bureaus, even if they're from small-claims court or from the special landlord-tenant courts established by some states. If you pay the judgment, you may be able to get it removed from your credit report or request an update indicating the judgment was paid.
An unlawful detainer is an eviction lawsuit. This won't be reported to the credit bureaus unless you are actually evicted. It's not enough for your landlord simply to file the eviction paperwork because a judge will ultimately have to rule on your claim. Much like losing a lawsuit, unlawful-detainer suits are reported to the credit bureaus. Because an unlawful detainer may not require that you pay any money, however, it can be harder to remove from your credit report.
Mediation and Landlord-Tenant Court
The simple act of entering a courtroom or a mediation session with your landlord isn't sufficient to ding your credit. Court proceedings are matters of public record, so information about the suit will be publicly available. If, however, the suit is dropped, you and your landlord settle it or you win the lawsuit, it won't be reported to the credit bureaus.
Effect on Credit
The effect that a negative judgment has on your credit report varies depending on the amount of the judgment, how old the judgment is and what other items are on your report. If you have good credit, the effect can be smaller because positive items will balance out the negative. But if your credit's already in trouble, you may see a precipitous drop in your score. No matter how good your credit is, a judgment from your landlord could affect your ability to rent future properties once potential landlords pull up your report.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.