- Existing evictions data is incomplete and, as a result, misleading.
- Public policy decisions and legal rulings are being made with flawed information.
- Often, “mom and pop” property owners are at greater risk from eviction moratoria.
- Long-term solutions exist to support renters impacted by the economic ramifications of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic elevated fears of housing instability for many of America’s renters. Evidence suggests that apartment renters were more at-risk for job loss. Fueled by historic unemployment and economic uncertainty, families questioned their continued ability to pay rent. The Census Household Pulse Survey, which began in spring 2020, has routinely showed approximately one-third of respondents were concerned about their ability to meet their rental obligations.
While jurisdictions at all levels have ramped up various renter relief resources, they have also turned to eviction moratoria to alleviate housing hardships and stem the potential for resident displacement during the public health emergency.
While federal policymakers ultimately provided $46.5 billion for emergency rental assistance, the continuation of eviction moratoriums has renewed focus on broader questions of eviction practices, as well as raised concerns about the disruption in the market once the moratoriums expire.
Our research shows that reliable and complete data on evictions is severely lacking and may not be realistically obtainable due to the disaggregated nature of court records and eviction reporting. This dearth of quality national data speaks to the hazard of one-size-fits-all federal policy solutions. The highly individualized nature of eviction proceedings and laws, along with locality-specific conditions that exacerbate housing instability like affordability and housing supply, calls for state and local solutions.
In addition, rental housing is dominated by non-institutional, “mom and pop” property owners. When eviction moratoria policies are treated as “rental holidays,” these individual property owners tend to suffer disproportionately – as do renters, who end up with fewer options.
The Difficulties in Mining Good Data
Incomplete data from frequently cited sources (e.g., www.evictionlab.org, the Private Equity Stakeholder Project) are increasingly finding their way into media and government or policy reports to highlight eviction filings occurring during the COVID crisis and are causing some degree of confusion about the issue. However, it’s important to acknowledge the difficulty in collecting more accurate data surrounding evictions and eviction practices.
To provide a more accurate picture of the situation, we would want to have additional data points. We would want to know things such as the number of eviction filings versus physical removals; the reasons for eviction filings; the amount of rent due when eviction filings were initiated; and an estimate of how much back rent was owed when eviction filings were initiated.
Besides these quantitative measures, there are also numerous qualitative questions that would be helpful in helping us better evaluate eviction trends and policies. For example, how have eviction practices and policies changed during the COVID-19 crisis? Are evictions still being filed for monetary or non-monetary lease violations? How is notice provided to residents? Are written late notices given? Are rental assistance funds being used?
While some of these may seem relatively basic, there is currently no way to collect accurate evictions data aggregated at a national level. The Census Household Pulse Survey, which was started after the pandemic began, does include some renter survey questions related to eviction, but they are forward-looking (meaning it may or may not happen) and are subjective.
Getting to the point of having some standardized or national data set would require significant reporting changes not only for the industry but also state and local jurisdictions.
On Finding Better Policies and Practices
Evictions continue to be a time-consuming and expensive but necessary business practice—and the only legal remedy to remove a resident who has breached the lease, be that for nonpayment of rent or dangerous or unlawful behavior or a host of non-monetary reasons in between.
However, given the widespread economic hardships many renters are facing, many professionally managed apartment firms are employing a wide variety of mitigation efforts and making concerted attempts to avoid eviction activity. These tactics include setting up individualized payment plans, establishing flexible payment schedules, converting security deposits to payments, waiving fees, connecting renters to local and nonprofit rental assistance resources and more.
While well intentioned, eviction moratoriums to address COVID-related hardships are unsustainable and ultimately do not address a renter’s underlying financial distress. Moreover, the severe lack of quality eviction data suggests there are few ways to target and measure the efficacy of such policies. The best eviction protection is ensuring that renters have access to resources to meet their financial obligations.
Moreover, eviction restrictions are unable to address widespread housing affordability challenges. For example, if smaller property owners are unable to collect rent from tenants and then unable to meet their obligations – which can be considerable – and must leave the market, renters and communities suffer. Like other property owners, these “mom and pop” property owners hold mortgages and are responsible for property taxes, insurance and payrolls. However, they also tend to offer more affordable rental options and are tightly linked with local community vendors who rely on them for work. These landlords leaving the market directly reduces the availability of affordable housing.
Instead, policymakers should focus on effective ways to improve housing affordability and assist low-income renters. These include things like policies and programs that can greatly increase the supply of housing, increase funding for housing support programs and deploy broad emergency financial assistance funds through simple and easy to access programs.
- Real Estate Industry Letter to House Leaders on Notice-to-Vacate
- NMHC NAA Statement on White House Eviction Reform Summit
- Senate Focuses on Rental Housing Industry As Part of ‘Rent Eats First’ Hearing
- White House Summit Focuses on Eviction Mitigation, Renter Assistance
- Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies: America’s Rental Housing 2022 Report