All across the country, eviction filings are literally through the roof. If you are one of the 3.5 million-plus renter households teetering on the brink of eviction, you have rights, too.
The following article is comprised of advice issued by experts in the field. It is presented with the end goal of helping vulnerable individuals and families prevent evictions before they happen. However, the circumstances surrounding each eviction notice are unique. The best thing to do is to contact a local eviction lawyer for immediate help.
Eviction: A National Crisis Overview
In July of 2023, as America contended with the hottest year on record, people died homeless and unsheltered along the pavement of city sidewalks, where they continued to go unnoticed even in death. Hurried passersby stepped right over their lifeless bodies. Even in the scorching heat, the truth was stone cold.
Homelessness by way of eviction is a looming possibility for more than 2.9 million children, according to the latest data available. PBS reports that without previously implemented renter protections on the books, eviction filings are now 50% higher than in the pre-pandemic era.
Inflation and stagnant wages, along with the ever-rising cost of food, rent, and other necessities, are to blame. As such, we are faced with a nationwide eviction crisis. Some experts claim there is no end in sight.
If you had the unfortunate fate of being served an eviction notice, or if you fear you or a loved one are in jeopardy of becoming evicted, here are some preemptive measures you can take.
Know Your Rights
Here is where a nationwide dilemma has a unique set of limitations.
Renter rights drastically vary from state to state all across the country. For example, in Iowa, if a landlord accepts or agrees to accept a partial payment from their tenant, an eviction cannot legally occur.
Iowa and Minnesota both regulate the amount of money landlords can legally charge in late fees, and the latter state has laws permitting renters to withhold payments if essential services (such as electricity, heat, hot water, etc.) are not being provided. New York has laws designed to prevent renters from harassment, discrimination, and self-help eviction.
It’s important to point out that self-help evictions, when a landlord uses shifty tactics to coerce a tenant to vacate the property, are almost always illegal in any state. If your landlord attempted any of the following acts to intimidate you into moving out, they committed a crime.
- Turning off utilities
- Changing the locks without your knowledge or permission
- Sending threatening emails or text messages
- Entering the property with malicious intent
- Removing your belongings from the rental unit
In some cases, a landlord will resort to physical violence or use intimidation tactics to try to get their way. If you feel threatened by someone with a key to your house, this can be an incredibly vulnerable position. Fortunately, the one thing every tenant in every state has a right to is legal representation.
Get An Attorney
According to the American Civil Liberties Union and other mainstream sources, only 10% of tenants facing eviction have a lawyer. Comparatively, 90% of landlords enter the courtroom with legal representation.
Enlisting the help of an eviction lawyer could prove a pivotal turning point, which is true even if you wind up getting evicted. In many cases, eviction lawyers will aid in a process known as mediation, doing everything to prevent a potential eviction. Additionally, if a tenant is still forced to vacate the property, an eviction lawyer can also help them seek temporary or permanent housing and avoid the prospect of becoming homeless altogether.
While eviction lawyers are necessary tools against eviction, some experts claim they are insufficient. A blunt statement published by Stanford Law Review states, “Most low-income tenants facing eviction do not need a lawyer. They need rent money.”
In the below quote, the author of the piece goes on to explain how a right to counsel will not change the current harmful renter environment, even if enacted.
“Recent policy emphasis on right to counsel obscures the real injustice at play in our eviction courts: the monetization of residential housing, the protection of property and profit at the expense of the poor, and the exploitation of the human need for shelter as a mechanism to line the pockets of the real estate industry.”
Apply for Assistance
Bearing in mind the fact that nearly 75% of tenants facing eviction are in this predicament because they can’t afford rent, a viable option would be to apply for emergency assistance, which can be provided in the following forms:
- Rental assistance
- Financial assistance with utilities
- Relocation assistance
- Help with late fees and court fees
- Internet assistance
- Housing vouchers
- Help with uncategorized housing expenses
As part of the American Rescue Plan, more than $46 billion was allocated to eviction prevention. The program saved lives and helped millions evade homelessness.
Unfortunately, 89.7% of all Pandemic-era emergency rental assistance programs are permanently closed. Some are still open, depending on your state of residence. For an elongated list of available programs in your area, dial 211 immediately to speak with your local authority.
Request a Delay or Dismissal
Once you have applied for whatever assistance is available to you in your region, you should request a delay or dismissal of the eviction while you await these emergency funds. Financial support and housing assistance programs sometimes mediate between landlords and tenants to prevent eviction at all costs.
Ask for Alternative Placement if You Have Already Been Evicted
In an exclusive discussion with Invisible People, Eric Tars, Senior Policy Director for the National Homelessness Law Center, advised at-risk renters to seek alternative placement if they have been evicted and have no safe place to reside.
“I can’t offer blanket advice,” he explained, emphasizing how laws and situations vary greatly. “In many cases, I guess the advice would be to always ask for an alternative placement, where they can legally be, where there’s an indoor space that meets their needs.”
Talk To Your Legislators About Protecting Renters from Eviction
In December of 2022, the American Rescue Plan’s ERA1 funding ended. Shortly afterward, ERA2 funds were exhausted in almost every state nationwide. As renter protections dwindle, there has been a not-so-subtle policy shift that favors homeless criminalization over eviction prevention. The American people are in desperate need of preventative programs that feature financial assistance and aid with relocation expenses for renters facing eviction.
With a presidential election on the horizon shortly, there has never been a better time to call on your local legislators to act in the public’s best interest by drafting laws that protect renters from eviction and subsequent homelessness.