The Harrowing Truth about Eviction Trials

BY Cynthia Griffith

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Preface: This post was inspired by a tweet published by Litigation Director at the National Housing Law Project, Eric Dunn. His profound insight into this matter has made it possible for our team at Invisible People to inform the public. We want to thank him for bringing this vital information forward.

With Eviction Moratoriums Completely Closed, Millions of Renters are at Risk for Eviction

Eviction is a brutal process for anyone who has had to suffer it. In one fell swoop, a tenant, who by definition, doesn’t own their place of residence, has everything ripped out from underneath of them. They come home to a locked door, usually losing their belongings in the process. The debt they once had as a renter begins to multiply as they scramble to secure funding for court appearances, late fees, and storage.

If they’re not going to become homeless, they will likely need money to secure another rental space. The going rate for this is three months’ rent upfront. It’s easy to see how all of this could be daunting for an individual who wound up in this predicament because they already didn’t have one month’s rent.

Should a renter manage to narrowly avoid the pitfall of homelessness that usually snags a person in this situation, the post-eviction battle is all uphill.

According to Experian, an eviction follows a renter wherever they go, ruining their credit score for at least seven years. Even after that seven-year hardship, many landlords will still dig deep enough into a renter’s history to find that one eviction, however old it may be. This ultimately equates to even fewer housing options in a nation that is currently short 7 million affordable homes.

With lack of affordable housing still taking the number one spot for leading causes of homelessness, it’s easy to see how one eviction could ruin a person’s life, or even their children’s lives, giving way to generational hardship and poverty.

According to the Aspen Institute, every time a minute passes in America, seven people get evicted. If you’re doing the math, that means more people are evicted per minute than graduate from college. That puts eviction over education. And as it turns out, this is one of many dark eviction truths. Here’s another:

According to Experts, Eviction Cases are Tried as “Summary Proceedings” Making them Different from Most Other Civil Lawsuits in a Way that Puts Renters at a Disadvantage

The significant difference in trying an eviction case as a “summary proceeding” is that these cases happen faster. Renters on trial for eviction have less than two weeks, sometimes even just a few days, to prepare for a trial that will forever alter their future and ability to obtain housing.

To make matters worse, the trial happens in the blink of an eye. The tenants often only have a minute or two to plead their case.

Suppose you are one of the 90% of renters who lack legal representation. You are given only a few moments to fumble through an argument against a professional lawyer trained to attack you on the collegiate level.

The mirror image here is quite revealing.

Approximately 90% of landlords already have an attorney, while that same number of renters (90%) have no legal counsel whatsoever. As you can see, this is a slippery slope. Things only get worse for renters from here.

As it turns out, eviction trials aren’t heard by judges but by other people in lower positions who are more likely to be swayed by the words of a legal professional. In extreme cases, the people who hear eviction trials have little or no legal training whatsoever, enhancing their incapability to reach an impartial ruling. Notably, the landlord is the one who gets to decide when and where a court will hear the trial. This stacks the deck against the renter early on.

More often than not, this ill-equipped tenant enters their eviction trial on the losing side of the courtroom. The question then becomes, why is this happening?

To understand the eviction process, you must start at its root. The origin of eviction proceedings is not what you might expect. Initially, the government introduced eviction trials to the legal realm to protect tenants. This much is true. However, they were not designed to protect tenants from eviction. They were designed to protect tenants from landlords retaliating violently for not paying their rent.

The US government wanted to find a more peaceful, quiet way for landlords to kick tenants out onto the streets. Their answer was eviction “trials,” a court case rigged in the landlord’s favor.

Eviction is Also Violence

While perhaps not as immediate as a pistol, eviction does take lives, especially if it gives way to homelessness. Homeless people are three times more likely to die than their housed counterparts. Whether they die at the hands of their landlord from a violent attack or they’re lit on fire by gang members who leave them to burn, the end result is a tragedy.

Contact your legislators about creating a just judicial process that never leaves anyone without a home.


Cynthia Griffith

     

Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

Related Topics

Eviction

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