Even with the moratorium on evictions, landlords continued to find ways to evict tenants

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Matthew Fowle, University of Washington and Rachel Fyall, University of Washington

(THE CONVERSATION) Millions of tenants in the United States lost key protection keeping them in their homes on August 26, 2021, with a Supreme Court ruling ending a nationwide moratorium on evictions.

The federal eviction suspension was put in place during the coronavirus pandemic to protect tenants in arrears with monthly payments and therefore at risk of having to stay in homeless shelters or with friends or relatives. This pandemic response was designed to keep tenants in their housing, avoid overcrowding in shelters and homes, and reduce the spread of COVID-19.

In early August, 7.9 million tenant households reported being in arrears with 3.5 million saying they risked eviction within two months. The large number of tenants in debt and at risk of displacement underscores the importance of protecting vulnerable tenants during the pandemic.


As academic experts on homelessness and social housing at the University of Washington, we have studied the housing experiences of low-income renters during the coronavirus pandemic. Our research found that even when an eviction ban was in place, landlords still had ways to force, or at least encourage, tenants to leave. Indeed, these so-called “informal evictions” – in which landlords harass tenants in their accommodation – may even have increased due to the suspension of evictions.

Different levels of protection

The federal moratorium on evictions imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September 2020 – along with similar actions by 43 states and dozens of cities and counties – undoubtedly saved many families from eviction. Analysis of court records revealed that these moratoria prevented millions of deportation requests during the pandemic.

Each moratorium offered tenants different levels of protection. Some have prevented landlords from bringing eviction action to the housing court, while others have suspended only the last stage of the eviction: the eviction of tenants and their property by local forces. ‘order.

Evicted from homes

We studied the experiences of low-income tenants between October 2020 and February 2021 in Washington state, considered one of the strongest moratoriums on evictions in the country. Put in place on March 18, 2020, it prohibited landlords from filing or threatening to file evictions for unpaid rent – and banned rent increases and late fees.

Despite these protections, we found that some low-income tenants were still forced to vacate their units, outside of the formal legal process.

Landlords use a variety of tactics that pressure tenants to leave, such as harassing tenants with verbal abuse or making repeated requests to inspect or enter the rental unit, often without notice. Other landlords refuse to make necessary repairs or, conversely, to undertake non-critical construction work on the unit, disrupting things while the tenant lives there.

Such practices can put low-income tenants in an unenviable position: they either move out of their homes or they continue to experience nuisance and harassment from their landlord. Those who choose to stay may find themselves facing even more severe pressure.

Illicit eviction tactics

The moratorium on evictions offered legal cover to tenants who refused their landlord’s order to leave. Tenants could contact the Washington State Attorney General’s office for assistance in preventing an illegal eviction. However, there are no significant consequences for landlords who tell tenants to vacate their rental units – lawsuits are very rare.

Tactics such as changing front door locks to prevent tenant access and removing tenants’ belongings are illegal, but many tenants lack the knowledge or resources to tackle violations in a court. housing and eventually decide to leave, even though they have the legal right to stay.

We spoke with an older couple who had rented from the same owner for over a decade. During the first months of the pandemic, they were able to manage to pay only partial, but consistent rents. In June 2020 – two weeks after asking for a rent extension for the following month – they returned home and found their landlord had changed the locks on their front door without notifying them. He then refused to allow the couple to collect their belongings, leaving them to sleep in their car until they found a new place to live.

A low-income single mom with two told us her landlord refused to fix a leaking roof, causing a serious black mold problem. She believed that the refusal was due to the fact that she had missed several months of rent.

Another tenant we interviewed was visited by his landlord, sometimes with just 20 minutes’ notice, more than a dozen times in a few weeks shortly after losing his job and could no longer pay the full amount. rent.

In total, with support from Violet Lavatai, Executive Director of the Tenants Union of Washington State, we spoke to 25 low-income tenants and analyzed 410 survey responses. All of our respondents have contacted a tenant rights hotline at least once in recent years.

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In 2017, a national study estimated that 4.5% of all tenants had been the subject of an informal eviction that year. For each formal eviction, there were up to 5.5 informal evictions.

Our research suggests that suspensions of evictions during the pandemic could actually lead to an increase in informal evictions. The results of our survey indicate that informal evictions more than doubled during the pandemic compared to the previous year.

Vulnerable to coercive owners

The Supreme Court’s decision to block the federal moratorium on evictions leaves millions of tenants in states that do not have similar protections in place at risk of eviction, especially those who have yet to receive an eviction. rent assistance. Even for tenants protected by state moratoria, those protections are expected to expire before the end of September 2021, including in Washington state.

Our research suggests that eviction stays alone are not the solution to housing insecurity. Tenants who are unable to pay their rent remain vulnerable to illegal tactics by landlords determined to evict them.

Imposing clear penalties for wrongful evictions and increased support for low-income tenants could help many more low-income tenants stay in their homes.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/even-with-the-eviction-moratorium-landlords-continued-to-find-ways-to-kick-renters-out-166810.


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