Landlord-tenant laws and housing market conditions vary widely, and evictions are not surging everywhere. And a court filing does not necessarily result in eviction; some cases are resolved through payment plans or other agreements. But from 2010 to 2013, Maine experienced a 21 percent increase in eviction filings, Massachusetts 11 percent and Kentucky 8 percent. In the fiscal year that ended in June, New Jersey, which has some of the strongest tenant protections in the country, had one eviction filing for every six renter households. In Georgia, where court statistics do not differentiate between tenants evicted by a landlord and homeowners evicted after foreclosure, filings soared to almost 270,000 last year, a 9 percent jump since 2010. Over the same period, according to the research firm CoreLogic, the number of foreclosures dropped by half.
Perhaps the simplest explanation for the rise in evictions is a severe shortage of rental housing caused by a lack of new construction during the recession and the wave of foreclosures that turned homeowners into renters and occupied housing into abandoned blight.
A vast majority of renters live in cities, but evictions are not limited to urban settings. Rural areas like western Oklahoma, where an oil and gas boom has increased demand for housing, have also seen an increase in eviction filings.
The rising demand for, and tight supply of, apartments means landlords can now afford to be more exacting in their standards, if not outright aggressive in replacing renters with those who can pay more. In the second quarter of this year, the rental vacancy rate sunk to its lowest in almost 20 years, while rents, in inflation-adjusted dollars, remained close to their peak. Some advocates for tenants said that court filings were just the tip of the iceberg — many renters have been displaced by rising rents, threatening letters, one-time payoffs and condo conversions, without ever going to court.
The rental shortage has made the most vulnerable tenants susceptible to eviction. “So many of our clients are people of color, people with disabilities, people who have suffered extreme health crises or a long-term chronic illness,” said Christine Donahoe, a staff attorney with Legal Action of Wisconsin.