Tag Archives: tenants

The Dollars Driving Landlords to Evict Aren’t Big Time

Little Rock      The landlord ideology about tenants is based on a narrative mythology that whenever they evict, it is because their tenants are deadbeats and scofflaws.  Landlords having powerful local and national organizations and a much louder voice than their tenants have been selling this swill for centuries.  Researchers are now digging deeper into the real facts, not the “alternative” facts, and finding that a significant number of evictions are, in their view, based on relatively paltry sums.

A story in the New York Times recently highlighted the fact that there are a significant number of families that are evicted for sums that are less than $600.  Note that that’s $600 all-in, including rent owed, late fees, court costs, etc., much of which is larded onto the rent owed, meaning that the actual rent that led to this crisis, potentially making a family homeless, was way, way less.

Before we get much deeper into this eviction situation, let’s note that this is about as far from a surprise as knowing that dawn comes the day after dusk.  When the Federal Reserve banking survey in May 2019 widely reported finding that 40% of Americans did not have $400 in cash or credit to deal with any financial emergency, whether health, transportation, or whatever, it was obvious that at least that number would potentially face eviction if they were facing a $600 notice from their landlord and his gang.

The Times notes that in Virginia 23% of eviction judgements were less than $600, in North Carolina 32% of the judgements were for sums that low, Delaware 20%, and Rhode Island at 8% were also in that range.  The median money judgement was higher, about $1200, inclusive.

This is the tip of the iceberg.  The data underlying these numbers comes from Lexis/Nexus as verified by the Princeton Eviction Lab, which notoriously undercounts the number of real evictions because the figures are drawn from legal proceedings.  Matthew Desmond, the head of the Eviction Lab, acknowledged this flatly in his widely read book and award-winning book, Evicted:  Poverty and Profit in America.  The vast majority of evictions never end up in court filings and certainly not in actual judgments.  Suffice it to say, the numbers of de facto, rather than de jure, evictions are much, much higher.

If a family doesn’t have $400, then $600 is a higher mountain.  It may look like peanuts, through the window from the outside, but looking at that figure from the family’s viewpoint, it might as well be millions.  Some legislators are proposing an emergency rent fund.  Others seem to think that talk, rather than money, will solve this problem, and have proposed more mediation between landlords and tenants.  The experts acknowledge that the problem is structural, but are trying to carve out at least a Band-Aid solution to deal with this gaping wound.

The problem is bigger than this of course.  The Times notes that “between 1990 and 2017, the national stock of rental housing grew by 10.9 million units…Over the same time, the number of units renting for less than $600 a month in inflation-adjusted dollars fell by 4 million.   All net growth in rent housing in America, in other words, has been for higher-income tenants.”

The solution here is higher wages, a better welfare system, and a real national housing policy for low-and-moderate income families, but the policy proposals tend to skew towards throwing pennies at the wall, rather than putting dollars in peoples’ pockets and roofs over their heads.  The proposals are packaged to save public authorities money by preventing the higher costs of shelters and homelessness.  They might sell this to some, but families facing evictions won’t buy it, and neither should we settle there.

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New Housing Law in New York Having Huge Impact on Tenant Evictions

New Orleans       The Wall Street Journal and its reporters must get a special thrill when they can score an exclusive on the New York Times on New York’s own turf.  I bet they didn’t even care when they went out to celebrate last week at their local watering hole that their billionaire owner, Rupert Murdoch, and all the landlords who read their paper were probably seething as they went line by line reading about the huge benefits the new housing law in New York State was having for tenants.  Their tenants are not big readers of the Journal, but even though they may not have seen the article, they still celebrated.  The difference was that they stayed home, rather than going out, because the big news was that they were not being evicted.

One of the most profound results of the new law has been the almost 50% drop in evictions being filed in New York City’s housing court.   The new law instructed landlords to wait fourteen days rather than three days before evicting for nonpayment or late payment.  According to the Journal’s review of the statistics for the New York City boroughs, “New eviction cases against city tenants for nonpayment of rent are down by more than 35,000 since the law was signed on June 14, compared with the same period in 2018, a drop of 46%….”  The new law also gave tenants more time to respond, all of which has seems to have slowed down the eviction happy landlords who assumed they could threaten someone with housing court and be done with it, and then raise the rents to escape rent control restricts.  Holdover cases on minor lease infraction claims are also reportedly down by 11% as landlords try to figure out how to get the upper hand again under this new 74-page law that closed many of the loopholes they had enjoyed in the past.

Some of the impact is more New York City than universal.  There have been huge increases in legal protection for tenants in the housing court under Mayor DeBlasio.  Admittedly these changes were enacted before the new law, but it has to be a factor in slowing them down now while they figure the angles.  Additionally, there is a “look back” provision on previous repairs and rent increases that is peculiar to NYC rent control that wouldn’t exist in other cities, preventing us from comparing every orange city to the Big Apple.

Nonetheless, the point is impossible to miss.  Making the law fairer and giving tenants real rights and protections does in fact slow evictions and protect affordable housing.  Preventing landlords from playing gotcha on the least little things and perp walking them into courts keeps tenants in their units and lets them work things out with their landlords.

It’s pretty clear already that cities and states in the US and abroad as well need to study the new law and see what they can put in place locally.  For sure tenants and our organizations are now going over it with a fine-toothed comb.

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