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Ensuring Every Eviction is a Just Cause Eviction

Rajiv Desai | March 8, 2022

4 Minute Read

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We know that housing stability has incredible benefits for children, families, healthcare systems, and local economies — and that housing instability is harmful to all of the above. That’s why it’s essential to put legal safeguards in place for renters in our communities, including laws that ensure no tenant is vulnerable to losing their home for an illegitimate reason.

“Just cause” eviction policies help lawmakers define what constitutes a legitimate eviction, protecting renters’ legal rights and preventing unwarranted threats to their housing in the process. But managing every eviction case has long been a challenge for local agencies, even before the eviction moratorium expired and the record-setting backlog of eviction cases started inching forward.

Fortunately, a well-designed eviction management program makes it easy for local leaders to track every eviction, document and preserve the supporting evidence, and protect the rights of both tenants and property owners throughout the eviction process. With smart systems in place, housing program managers can enforce just cause eviction laws and provide a major boost to housing stability in their communities.

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What is Just Cause Eviction?

Just cause eviction laws require landlords to provide a reason for evicting tenants (or, in some places, for not renewing a lease), and limit the reasons that landlords can use as a basis for eviction.

These policies vary from place to place, but most just cause eviction laws allow property owners to evict tenants for reasons like:

  • Non-payment of rent.
  • Deliberately damaging the rental property.
  • Creating a nuisance in the building or neighborhood.
  • Engaging in criminal activity at the property.
  • Or because the owner wants to occupy the unit themself.

As you can see, under just cause eviction laws, landlords are still able to evict tenants for “good reasons,” like not complying with their lease agreements, damaging the property, or making the property unlivable for other residents.

But renters gain some insurance against losing their homes for less legitimate reasons, like the landlord wanting to find a higher income tenant and raise the rent, or retaliate against the renter for requesting repairs or otherwise asserting their legal rights. For this reason, just cause eviction laws not only contribute to housing stability, they can help prevent blight and improve the health and safety of renters in a community.

Where Just Cause Eviction is Working

Cities like Berkeley and Seattle have had just cause eviction laws since the 1980s. Philadelphia, Oakland, Washington D.C and a number of others have implemented similar ordinances since. On the statewide level, New Hampshire and New Jersey have just cause ordinances in place.

Best yet, research shows these laws are working. A study by Princeton’s Eviction Lab that measured the effects of just cause eviction laws in four California cities found that after these cities passed the ordinance, the reduction in overall eviction filings was statistically significant and noticeable.

And since evictions are associated with poorer health outcomes, lower educational attainment for children, and difficulty finding decent housing in the future, it’s clear that preventing unnecessary evictions is a worthwhile goal.

Enforcing a Just Cause Eviction Law

Of course, it’s not enough to merely pass a just cause eviction ordinance. Local leaders also need to provide meaningful support for these ordinances through smart enforcement programs, preferably ones that make documentation, tracking, data analysis, and communication between all parties as clear and painless as possible.

Here are some elements that an effective eviction management program needs to ensure all evictions are just cause evictions.

Clear, Accessible Documentation

Evictions are a community-wide problem for many reasons, not the least of which is the enormous administrative burden they tend to place on local housing agencies. To enforce a just cause eviction law, local leaders need systems that make all of the documentation that accompanies an eviction easy to organize and access, while also storing digital documents securely.

Depending on the just cause ordinance, program managers may need to track written requests for rent payments, evidence of damage to a unit, or proof that an owner intends to occupy the unit themself. All of this can be easily managed with a smart eviction management system.

An Easy-to-Use Correspondence System

Having a centralized communications hub for tenants, landlords, legal representatives, and city employees can not only go a long way in ensuring that all evictions are just cause evictions, it can help tenants and landlords resolve disputes before eviction is even on the table.

An effective eviction management program will include a system for facilitating communications between all concerned parties, and keeping track of those critical conversations for future reference.

An Information Hub for Tenants and Owners

It’s hard to protect the legal rights of tenants or property owners when those groups aren’t aware of their rights in the first place. 

With tenant and owner portals, city leaders can keep renters in the loop about their legal protections and other important information, so they’re less likely to leave their homes in the event of an attempted illegal eviction. It also keeps property owners informed of updates to local ordinances, so they understand the proper process for removing a tenant legally.

Powerful Data Analytics

Having the power to easily spot eviction trends in your community can mean the difference between having a just cause eviction law on the books, and having one in reality.

When you can easily visualize the number of evictions occurring over time in a particular location, you may notice some trends you didn’t see before — like which property owners are filing the most eviction cases, or what conditions seem to correspond to an increase in evictions in a neighborhood, like rising rents, or certain types of development nearby.

Insights like these are what allow local leaders to make smart, data-driven policy decisions, and allow city workers to effectively enforce a just cause eviction ordinance.

Managing Just Cause Eviction Laws In Your Community

Evictions are difficult: for renters, housing program managers, legal advocates, and yes, even for landlords.

But with a just cause eviction ordinance in place, and an effective eviction management program to support it, local leaders have the power to protect the rights of both tenants and landlords throughout the eviction process, while improving housing stability in their communities.

Ready to learn more about the tools that can help your community enforce a just cause eviction law? Check out this guide.

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