Eviction filings don’t always lead to tenants being forced out

Both the Lexington Fair Housing Council’s report on evictions and the Oct. 13 article on the report wildly miss the mark.

The headline highlights the report’s most eye-catching claim, which is that over 43,000 evictions occurred in Lexington from 2005 to 2016. While that statement is technically true, it is misleading.

This claim leads one to believe that 3,400 tenants each year are forced to move out. The article fails to note that the 43,000 “evictions” were times a court issued an eviction judgment, an order directing the tenant to move within seven days.

What neither the article nor the report mentions is that such judgments rarely result in a tenant being forced to move.

In fact, it appears that tenants who have an eviction judgment entered against them are forced to move out less than 25 percent of the time. That number is based on our research of the activity of several of the Top 10 Landlords for Eviction Filings listed in the report.

The court records are replete with tenants who have had many eviction judgments entered against them by the same landlord month after month. Those tenants aren’t being forced to move. Instead, the landlord is being forced to file an eviction each month just to get the rent paid.

Thus, while there may be over 300 “evictions” each month, less than 75 of those are required to move out and almost all of them have failed to pay their rent.

Moreover, while it’s likely true that landlords “win” roughly 65 percent of evictions, it is not true that tenants have “won only three cases.” Most of the 35 percent of cases in which a judgment is not entered are dismissed. Most cases are dismissed because the tenant has finally paid the rent (or a portion of it) and the landlord has allowed him to stay on the property.

In the vast majority of evictions, tenants are allowed to stay on the property because losing tenants is costly for landlords, who have to find new tenants and get the unit ready for them, in addition to paying the costs of the eviction itself.

Thus, it is to be expected that landlords would “win” most eviction cases; most landlords won’t pay to file weak eviction cases.

The article states that the study found that most evictions likely don’t go through the courts. The Lexington study did not find that. That claim is based upon a 2009-2011 survey in Milwaukee. Further, that study counted situations where a landlord paid a tenant to move out as an eviction.

In Lexington, it is simply not true that tenants are being forced out in large numbers, via evictions or otherwise.

Finally, while it’s true that few tenants are represented by lawyers, they have the same right to hire a lawyer that landlords do. Many landlords do not use attorneys. Those who use attorneys for evictions do so largely because, in many situations, state law requires them to do so.

And those lawyers are not appointed, they are hired and paid for by the landlord. Any landlord who has had to file an eviction month after month against the same tenant just to leverage payment of the rent resents the report’s suggestion that landlords “profit” from evictions.

There surely are landlords who threaten eviction when it is not legally allowed, just as there are tenants who abuse the eviction process by filing fruitless appeals that allow them to remain month after month without paying the rent.

Both situations are rare, which is why the true statistics on evictions show that relatively few tenants are being forced to move out. Landlords need tenants to make their business work. Forcing tenants out is not a means to that end.

View our full response to the report at greaterlaa.com.

Stephen L. Marshall is general counsel of the Greater Lexington Apartment Association.