There are few things more traumatic for an individual or a family than losing their home.
Eviction has disastrous impacts on physical and mental health. Evicted tenants are more likely to suffer from depression, have poorer birth outcomes, and are at greater risk of dying from any cause within three years of being evicted. Communities suffer the consequences of eviction as well, as evicted families often have to change jobs or schools, lose connection with friends and neighbors, and use more public services than families who haven’t experienced eviction.
By implementing effective eviction prevention strategies, local leaders have the opportunity to prevent a wide range of negative downstream social consequences and expenses, while making a positive difference in the lives of the people they serve.
Here are a few smart strategies for preventing evictions and promoting housing stability in your community:
1. Creating Strong Tenant Protections
Making sure that tenants have a strong legal standing to remain in their homes is the first step to reducing the number of evictions in a community. There are a number of policy solutions that help cities and states accomplish this.
Just Cause Eviction Laws
First, “Just Cause” or “Good Cause” eviction laws ensure that a renter cannot legally be forced from their home except under specific circumstances, such as failing to pay rent, damaging the property, or otherwise violating the terms of their lease agreements.
In many communities without these laws, renters may be evicted simply because the landlord found someone else who was willing to pay more, or because they requested repairs that the landlord doesn’t want to make, or for no reason whatsoever. Clearly defining the legal grounds for eviction is the first step to ensuring tenants are protected.
Next, anti-harassment laws can give renters recourse if an unethical landlord attempts to force them out through harassment without a legal eviction proceeding. Common forms of tenant harassment include unnecessary and disruptive construction, refusing to make repairs, withholding essential services, or threatening renters with eviction without legal grounds. Truly unscrupulous landlords have even been known to move in antagonistic “roommates” to get unwanted renters out.
For anti-harassment laws to be effective, local governments need to implement a clear system for investigating reports of harassment, and for enforcing the law.
Right to Counsel Laws
Finally, a tenant right to counsel law, such as New York City’s, ensures that renters have an informed legal advocate in their corner if their landlord files an eviction. Without a housing attorney, renters are unlikely to bring an effective defense that could halt an eviction, even if they have one. A good housing attorney is often able to negotiate directly with the landlord, potentially reversing an eviction filing before it reaches court.
Effective Management and Communication of Protections
Of course, even with strong tenant protection laws, some evictions will still take place. It’s important that local governments have an effective system for managing evictions to ensure both the renters’ and the property owner’s rights are protected throughout the process.
Once strong tenant protections are in place, renters need to be made aware of them. Renters who don’t know their rights are very likely to “self-evict” without a legal proceeding if their landlord asks them to leave. A rental registry creates a database of renters in a community, allowing public sector workers to share important information about tenants’ rights and the resources available to them.
2. Using Rent Regulation as an Eviction Prevention Strategy
Another effective eviction prevention strategy is rent regulation, rent stabilization, or rent control laws. Drastic rent increases can easily lead lower-income families to fall into an unaffordable housing situation, leading to housing instability, and often, eviction.
By capping the amount that rent can be increased, during a tenancy and between tenancies, local lawmakers can proactively prevent huge spikes in rent from rendering families homeless.
Research shows that rent stabilization laws are an effective eviction prevention strategy. A Stanford study found that, in San Francisco, rent-stabilized apartments were associated with a 20 percent increase in the likelihood that tenants, especially older tenants who’d been at their address for years, would remain in their homes.
Rent regulation policies have enormous promise, not only for preventing eviction, but for mitigating the impacts of displacement and gentrification, helping long-time residents remain in their communities as housing markets heat up. To ensure compliance with these regulations, local governments need to carefully track the rental units in their communities, as well as the rents that tenants are charged.
3. Leveraging Data for Eviction Prevention
Understanding where evictions are taking place in a community, and who is filing the bulk of them, is essential to any effective eviction prevention strategy. And while city officials can certainly get access to a list of eviction filings in their communities, it helps to have a system for reporting on and visualizing eviction data that makes drawing insights from it easy.
One of the barriers to interpreting eviction data is multi-building ownership models that rely on multiple anonymous LLCs, an increasingly common practice by large property owners across the country. When the buildings in a portfolio are registered to multiple LLCs, it becomes difficult for local officials to connect the dots and see problematic patterns.
A disproportionate number of evictions can be a signal of speculative behavior on the part of landlords. With access to that information, public sector workers can target support to the renters who need it most — but only if they have the tools to organize and draw insights from eviction data.
Eviction Prevention Strategies Matter
Helping people avoid eviction is not only an admirable humanitarian goal, but it’s simply cheaper than the alternative. Homelessness and housing instability is personally catastrophic, socially damaging, and phenomenally expensive for our communities. By one estimate, preventing a single family from being evicted and falling into homelessness saves taxpayers roughly $70,000 annually in shelter costs alone.
When it comes to eviction, prevention is better than cure. If you’d like to learn more about the policies that can help the renters in your community remain in their homes, check out this guide.