Massachusetts Eviction Data and Housing Court Statistics
As of May 2020, MassLandlords now compiles eviction data monthly. The Massachusetts eviction process is called “summary process.” It is not legal for a landlord to evict a renter without filing for “summary process.” These filings are a public record and can be inspected in detail or in aggregate by anyone. The eviction data we are now compiling add detail to the Massachusetts Trial Court statistics released each fiscal year. For instance, the trial courts show total summary process filings each year. MassLandlords now compiles total filings by division by month.
Since December 2020, MassLandlords has published weekly housing court eviction data reports. The eviction data reports are split into two categories:
- Filings: Staff read dockets for recently filed cases; and
- Outcomes: Staff read dockets for cases filed approximately 18 months ago.
Filings are not Forced Move-outs
Note that summary process is the legal term for the court procedure where a landlord requests enforcement of a rental agreement. The overwhelming majority of summary process actions end without an eviction, or a forced move-out. For instance, many landlords and renters mediate in court and agree to a payment plan. Other mediated agreements might include a voluntary (non-forced) move-out at a mutually agreeable date in the future, sometimes months or a year after. Note also that a host of individuals intervene with the purpose of preventing forced move-outs. Help comes from Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), the Tenancy Preservation Program (TPP), and even judges themselves when they enforce the law on sanitary code conditions, security deposits, and much more.
The confusion between forced move-outs and summary process actions has been worsened by misreporting. As an example of such misreporting, we detailed the Boston Globe’s carelessness in “Global (Over)Reach: Boston Globe Stokes Eviction Fear with Falsehoods,” April 19, 2019.
Summary process filings result in a forced move-out only about 10% of the time.
Note that these data do not consider non-judicial resolution. For instance, “cash for keys” is a lawful non-judicial resolution for which we have little data. In a “cash for keys” arrangement, the landlord and the renter agree to part ways without the need for legal assistance. To give another example, “lockouts” would be an unlawful non-judicial resolution. Every lockout can be reversed by law enforcement. (If you believe you have been locked out of your apartment by your landlord, call the police.)
This eviction data includes only court procedures.
We read cases within one week of filing.
Filing reports by week
- Week ending 2020-10-24
- Week ending 2020-10-31
- Week ending 2020-11-07
- Week ending 2020-11-14
- Week ending 2020-11-21
- Week ending 2020-11-28
- Week ending 2020-12-05
- Week ending 2020-12-12
- Week ending 2020-12-19
- Week ending 2020-12-26
- Week ending 2021-01-02
- Week ending 2021-01-09
- Week ending 2021-01-16
- Week ending 2021-01-23
- Week ending 2021-01-30
- Week ending 2021-02-06
- Week ending 2021-02-13
- Week ending 2021-02-20
- Week ending 2021-02-27
- Week ending 2021-03-06
- Week ending 2021-03-13
- Week ending 2021-03-20
- Week ending 2021-03-27
Filing reports by month
We read cases 18 months after filing to be sure that at least 90% of cases read will have been resolved.
What Kinds of Questions Can These Massachusetts Eviction Data Reports Answer?
MassLandlords eviction data reports can answer policy questions like:
- How many adults are in each defendant household? (Answer: ~Two-thirds of households are single adult.)
- Why are these households being taken to court? (Answer: ~80% of cases are about non-payment of rent).
- What percent of landlords are required to hire an attorney? (Answer: ~75% of landlords are corporations required to hire an attorney).
- Where are these households? (Answer: Before the pandemic, gentrifying neighborhoods. After the pandemic, gateway cities.)
- What percent of filings result in a forced move-out? (Answer: < 10%).
- How frequently does mediation result in an agreement? (Answer: ~50% of the time).
- How long do evictions take? (Answer: Court duration, excluding time before and after court, is ~30 days.)
- How much money does an average household lack when they get removed for non-payment? (Pre-pandemic answer: ~$2,500)
What Kinds of Questions Can These Massachusetts Eviction Data Reports Not Answer?
- Has this applicant for my apartment ever been filed against? (We currently do not report on individual renter names.)
- What are common terms and conditions of mediated agreements? (We do not read case attachments.)
- Where do renters go if they are forcibly removed? (The courts do not follow up with renters.)
- How large are these landlords? (Landlord ownership count is not tracked by the courts.)
Special Note on Representation
Per Massachusetts case law, any landlord using a corporate entity (LLC, Trust, etc.) must hire an attorney. Our data indicate that when given the choice, more than half of landlords are small enough that they do not want to hire an attorney.
The difference between landlords and renters is not as great as between, say, credit card companies and debtors. Big banks and financial institutions all get lawyers, but people with credit card debt do not. If the taxpayers are to fund a civil right to counsel, we propose this might be better started with debt collection than housing. Landlords are mostly ordinary people and we don’t want to have the expense of hiring an attorney. The playing field in housing court can be leveled much more thoroughly for much less expense by de-escalating the lawyer arms race and applying public funds to rental subsidies rather than lawyers. 80% of cases are about non-payment of rent.
Our free solution to more equal representation: Start by letting officers of LLC’s represent their LLC.
Previous Eviction Data: Eviction Study for Massachusetts Part One
In 2016, MassLandlords published “Eviction Study for Massachusetts Part One”, a detailed assessment of 8,000 cases filed in Housing Court in 2014. This study of eviction data produced several key findings. There were statistically significant differences in the length, and therefore the cost, of evictions in Housing Court vs. District Court. For instance, a case filed in District Court was 30% more likely to end before an unpaid rent judgment reached $1,500, whereas a case filed in Housing Court was 18% more likely to accrue over $10,000 in unpaid rent.
The study controverted a then-frequent renter advocate refrain. Advocates used to say that evictions could be accomplished in as little as seven days, intending to argue that evictions were not lengthy. The eviction study clearly demonstrated that the average court time was 38 days, with the longest being one year, three months, two weeks and two days before the landlord was finally awarded possession. The seven-day eviction timeframe applied only to mediated agreements for judgment.
The study placed court duration in the context of notice and repair time, which for a landlord adds to length of an eviction above and beyond court time.
The cost and delay associated with a court eviction mean that most mom and pop landlords attempt to negotiate with renters rather than filing for eviction.
Webinar: Massachusetts COVID Eviction Filings So Far
COVID Election Filings
Douglas Quattrochi – Doug
Naomi Richardson – Naomi
Doug: All right, we’ll get started here. ty1 for joining us this afternoon, this webinar.
Just a quick technical note. Everyone loads into the webinar on mute. If you’ve arranged to say something in advance, you can raise your hand and our technical hosts will get you a chance to speak. I’m not aware of that scheduled for this event. Best way to ask a question or contribute something is to use the Q&A feature on Zoom, which allows you to ask a question which will stay there until it’s answered.
Note that it may be possible for others to see your question. The chat is disabled. you can chat with the panelists, but Q&A is the best way to get in touch with us here and that will help us to stay organized as well rather than chatting questions to the panelists.
Just before we get started some quick facts about MassLandlords.
We are a 501(c)6 nonprofit trade association. Our mission is to create better rental housing in Massachusetts by helping owners run profitable or I should say income-generating really compliant quality businesses. We need to be profitable or generate income in order to provide housing year after year. We need to follow all the laws to be effective advocates to change them and we want to be proud to be associated with one another here. We are democratically governed. We have an annual election for the board of directors and ongoing policy priority survey. We have growing impact with over 2 000 dues-paying members, 6,000 subscribers, and 300,000 site visitors for our free educational content. So here’s a picture of lots of folks besides MassLandlords. The staff that you see most frequently at these events lots of folks work behind the scenes.
This afternoon we’re going to go through this technical interview. It’s going to conclude just shortly. We’ve got two hosts working with us, Naomi and Jillian who are going to help us to make sure all the questions get answered and even if I don’t address one live we’re going to be recording these questions and dealing with them afterwards and also the whole webinar is recorded as well, so you’ll be able to watch this if you have to drop or someone you know wanted to see part of it just give us some time to post-process the video and get it up on the site.
With that we’ll start the main content of the presentation. This is about Massachusetts COVID Eviction Filings so far. My name is Doug Quattrochi. I’m the executive director of MassLandlords. I’m not an attorney, but I am knowledgeable how the legal process works and certainly I expect we’ll have some attorneys here in the call. Anytime I say anything wrong, feel free to chime in. The road to the truth is not a straight shot, so we’re trying to do the best we can here, but obviously if there’s anything you see that doesn’t make sense ask about it. We can talk about it.
At this webinar we’re going to be talking about evictions and what we really mean by that is summary process filings, so there’s a kind of national context about what it means to have an eviction and then there’s a Massachusetts context. We’re going to explain that difference. I’m going to start with some key findings and recommendations, just to kind of put a point to what this event is all about here so you know where we’re headed.
The recommendations won’t seem justified at this early point in the webinar but by the end of this by one o’clock hopefully it will make sense to you. We’ll cover the where and the why and the how and who’s doing this and all the process, the methodology. We’ll give you some legal terminology if you’re not familiar with how the eviction process works so that you can basically have some framework for what we’re talking about.
Then we’re going to look at a couple different data sets that we can draw on. The first one is from the April-May 2019 timeframe, not 2020 but before there was any pandemic, just the normal housing crisis or normal housing crisis. Then we’re going to compare that to everything that’s happened since the state moratorium lifted effectively October 18th and we can look at all kinds of things that are visible in the public record.
At the end of this, I will re-summarize. We anticipate having about five minutes for live questions, I can say over if it looks like there’s a lot: otherwise we’ll address everything via email when we can broadcast to everybody afterwards.
Let me lead off with what we propose are the key findings from our research.
First, nonpayment is the cause of 70 percent to 80 percent of all eviction filings in Massachusetts. Second, two-thirds of all cases are either single adults or single head of household, meaning you’ve got one adult and there’s some number of children. We’ll talk about this later but children should not be named and cannot be named in the court records, so if you see a defendant named it’s going to be an adult. Also if there’s any intent to proceed with a case, all adults have to be named. The number of defendants that you see is clearly a number of adults so we can answer that. I’ll explain how in a second.
Fewer than 25 percent of all these filings, all the cases that get filed in court actually result in an execution being issued. Execution is the technical term for sheriff or constable formally removes someone from the rented premises. Fewer than 25 and based on what the court data show, we can only know a few of those issued executions are actually levied and returned, so a lot of executions that are issued not actually carried out. We know that that’s less than five percent so I’ll explain what that implication is in a second. Then finally, a really significant implication for folks who work in housing stabilization of all the known levied executions, 94 percent of them essentially all of them are because a renter failed to follow through on a mediated agreement or because they defaulted, meaning they failed to show up at court at a critical juncture, That is an extremely significant finding.
Let me just give you some at this point unmotivated recommendations that will give you an idea of where we’re headed as we go through all this data. First of all, looking at nonpayment being the cause of so many filings, we can state pretty confidently that poverty and inequality are the drivers of eviction filings. Obviously if you can intervene early, you can prevent anyone from being filed against. Given the large number of single adult or a single head of household defendants, we will recommend that we need to do something to make it easier to rent individual rooms or to roommates. There’s a lot of work that has to be done to rebuild the housing stock obviously, but a lot of the barriers to using the existing old large bedroom count housing stock our administrative, so we don’t have to rebuild to make better use of the housing we have.
Given that so few filings represent an actual issue of execution, you can state confidently that if you end up in housing court the likeliest outcome is not that you’re going to be evicted. It’s that something else is going to happen. You’re going to get access to rental subsidy or there’s going to be immediate agreement or something like that. You’re not going to be forcibly removed.
Then based on of course the even smaller number that we know definitely have been levied. It looks like a lot of folks do end up moving out on their own potentially. It’s about 10 of filings is what we estimate and I’ll justify that estimate later and compare it against some other data sources to kind of ground that.
Finally given how many of these known levied executions are actually a result of default or failure to follow through a mediated agreement, there’s some clear implications for where housing stability advocates should be focused. I’m not at all saying that this is not being done currently but it’s encouragement to continue doing it, get the parties to show up to hearings, find what would be an achievable mediated agreement and only sign achievable agreements. Get rental subsidies very quickly to people so that mediation can be impactful and there’s real power to the promise of future repayment.
Then this one may not get enough attention publicly but once the mediated agreement is signed, the job is not done and it’s very important to help renters follow through with that so. These recommendations as I said are not justified; but let me take you through the logic and that will lead us to hopefully an understanding of where these come from.
First, by way of comparison. MassLandlords is going to present at this webinar novel data. This has never been published before, certainly not in this format, to the best of our knowledge and we’re not the only source of synthesis for Massachusetts eviction filings. For instance, the trial courts themselves have a very useful dashboard, which shows a different type of analysis than what we’re going to look at here today and that’s freely available online. You can check that out.
Similarly, apart from the judicial branch of the state government, the executive branch has a dashboard related to rental subsidy applications and grants. This is for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition program, RAFT, and that clearly shows a climbing number of applications granted an increasing amount of rental subsidy going out.
Now there’s a tab on the executive branch dashboard called RAFT IRMA application pipeline, which is not live yet last I checked as of an hour or so ago, but we expect that to show 2 000 applications for rental assistance a week. If i just flip back quickly to the court dashboard, it’s about 700 cases per week that are being filed, so if there are about 2,000 rental assistance applications a week, there could have potentially been by this point about three times as many court filings. What one state official said is that landlords seem to be showing admirable restraint. Actually he said, are showing, and I think that’s generally true. We’ll see that and we’ll look at what’s happening with the subsidies versus the actual cases.
Now when I talk about cases, what do I mean in particular? We’re talking about Massachusetts evictions, so the entire Commonwealth including the islands, West, East everywhere. There are three study periods that the MassLandlords team have been able to draw on.
The first study we ever did of eviction data was conducted in 2015 for cases filed between January 2, 2014 to October 31, 2014, about 8, 000 cases. It was just a housing court sample. It was by no means comprehensive, and we’re not particularly going to look at any of that data, but I can draw on that in answering specific questions that may arise. What we’re going to focus this afternoon is on housing court cases that were filed between April and May of 2019, what we’re calling the baseline, so way before there was any pandemic, we looked at every single housing court case.
Since the state moratorium has lifted there’s been a third dataset that we’ve gathered, which is all housing courts and all district courts and that’s about 6, 000 cases from the period October 18th of last year to December 26th. The team are reading cases more recent than that, but we’re going to declare for the purpose of this presentation December 26th the latest case, anything we know about. Obviously, cases have been filed in the three weeks since.
Now just to clarify in case anyone has this question why is MassLandlords investing in this. It is something that we funded entirely by membership dues, and it’s because MassLandlords staff and members have recognized that eviction is the last bump on the road to serious or deep poverty, so we’re often the focal point for a lot of folks whose economic lives have gone off the rails and there’s a lot of housing providers who do absolutely the right thing and work very hard to provide housing and to give tenants all the opportunities that should be available to each of us, but of course we have an industry with incomplete enforcement where you have slumlords who don’t follow all the rules and cannot be fully held accountable for that and so the reaction has tended to be well if some landlords don’t follow the current rules, we should have new rules rather than we should enforce the current rules more carefully.
What we’re trying to do here is establish MassLandlords as different from the folks who aren’t prepared to operate rental housing because our members do go the extra mile and we do follow the rules and the recommendations that we’re supposed to be contributing here have to fall from data and what we see especially in eviction sociology is that there’s a lot of storytelling. But the stories although they can be very compelling and motivating, the stories may mask some certain economic truths here that are really important to understand, so what we wanted to do is really show the data and make it available to folks.
I’ve got a screenshot of the eviction lab up here. This is the first of two instances where I’ll call attention to the eviction lab data. The eviction lab currently rates Massachusetts has half a star out of five in terms of our COVID eviction response, and I contest that because we’ll be able to show shortly that there’s almost no discernible difference between the housing crisis baseline and what’s happening now during the pandemic. In terms of policy we still have a housing crisis yes, but is it worse because of the pandemic? No, I think we can say that whatever we have done has resulted in a framework where evictions are no worse than before. That’s the first moment I’ll point that out.
Let me talk about our methodology a little bit here. I think it’s worth pointing out the disclaimer and the terms on the trial court webpage. MassCourts.org is where all this data comes from. This is a public service. It’s public information. Access to court records is essential in a self-governing society. The terms rightly say that you can’t use a scraper or other software to repeatedly query the server because bandwidth is a limited resource. There’s a green check there because we’re not doing that.
We have two sweeps manually, looking at these court cases and reading them with actual people. The first sweep we call them month zero sweep where we look uh for instance in this picture here. At each division we select the housing court and each type of case and we look at a week at a time or smaller time frames until we get a data set that’s manageable, and we download each case once. We view it and we save it locally. That’s the first sweep.
The second sweep is a month 18 sweep where we’re looking not at cases recently filed like this is the month they’re filed in month 0, but it cases filed 18 months ago, based on which we have some expectation that the cases have resolved because most eviction cases don’t last that long, so we go back again and we reread all the cases. It is legitimately a mind-numbing endeavor and I’m very grateful to the team at MassLandlords who have undertaken this to manually read all these 10,000 cases.
Once we’ve saved our local copies, we can then use some limited computer software to do a little bit of what we’re calling computer-assisted manual analysis. It sounds like an oxymoron, but I don’t want to oversell the automation here. For instance, it needs a person to read a plaintiff name, if that says Kendall, and determine is that supposed to mean someone who goes by the name of Kendall like Mr. Kendall or Mrs. Kendall or is that really like Kendall LLC, and you have to check the Mass Corporations page and verify there is a there’s a Kendall LLC, not to particularly pick on that one industry or business but that’s you know an example, a real example.
Similarly a lot of eviction cases are served against properties based on a village name or an informal municipality name. For instance, Cherry Valley isn’t formerly a Massachusetts municipality, but it does appear in the records a lot, so if we’re going to estimate per capita eviction rates we have to have an estimate of the population of Cherry Valley, which is not necessarily a census designated area. There’s actually a lot of work that has to be done to understand what’s going on with these cases. We’ve got 4,000 lines of Perl and we’ve got four team members who do this work.
That’s our methodology and I hope that’s adequate to explain roughly how we’re taking data from MassCourts.org into a local copy and analyzing it locally, but if not we can take questions on that. For now I propose to move on and address some of the terminology related to eviction.
Usually what people think of when they hear eviction is a renter being put out on the street, and I want you all to know and take comfort in the fact that in Massachusetts, a landlord cannot legally evict anyone. Only a sheriff or a consul can do that under court order, and even if that does happen where a sheriff or constable takes a court order and physically removes someone from a rented premises and their belongings, their belongings can never be left in the street. They have to be stored in a bonded and insured warehouse.
That’s different from what other states in this country permit to pick on. Georgia, for instance, you can have a curbside eviction, and someone can come a stranger or anyone a scavenger can come by and pick up all your stuff. You were at work. You got evicted while you’re at work and it’s absolutely inhumane and it should not happen and I want you to know that that does not happen in Massachusetts. What we’re talking about when we talk colloquially about eviction here in the context of Massachusetts is summary process, which is the legal term for a court procedure that was designed to recognize landlords don’t just sell space but we also sell the time associated with it.
It’s meant to be quick summary. It’s specifically set up to help housing providers deal with especially nonpayment in rental scenarios, but any kind of issue related to what we would think of as leading to an eviction, so that maybe is a convoluted way to explain that what happens in Massachusetts is very different and very much better from what happens elsewhere.
Our process here in Massachusetts the way we teach it to new housing providers in our crash course is in terms of five phases with various milestones, so let’s take nonpayment as an example. The moment rent is first late starts what we’ll call a grace period where a landlord gives a renter some number of days to come up with the money or to pay it. it might be also called an informal stabilization period where a landlord might make a payment plan or something else. None of that is court record. If the landlord decides that the tenancy is unsalvageable, they might issue a notice to quit.
As we’re going to see with the data collection effort starting collecting notices to quit, notices to quit can also be issued in lieu of a late fee, which are basically illegal in Massachusetts. You can’t charge a late fee before the next month’s rent is due, so notices to quit are sometimes used to compel payment or to call attention to a nonpayment scenario. But the notice to quit is also the legal gateway into what becomes summary process or an eviction case.
There’s a notice period. You have to wait a certain amount of time depending on what the reason is, whether the lease specifies how long the notice is, whether your property is covered under the CARES Act, and then at some point you can serve a summons and complaint and then file that with the court. That starts everything that we’re going to talk about here, so everything prior to this is not readily visible in the court record. What we’re talking about in this webinar is the court process, which on average lasts 27 days but can last up to 17 months.
After the formal issuance of a judgment there can be an appeal. There can be an execution, that means a forced removal and there can be an eviction, what we think of as properly in eviction, and that period can be 10 days or longer depending on a variety of circumstances. Of course from the housing provider’s perspective, it’s not over then because the unit has to be restored to rent-ready conditions so there’ll be some repair time after that.
What we used to teach before COVID was that the fastest an eviction could proceed if a renter took full advantage of all their legal remedy short of a jury trial was 90 days and that included a zero grace period and a normal notice period. Now we operate in a framework of continuances where cases can be delayed for rental application subsidies and so on. We’re not going to go into that here but you should imagine that there’s quite a lot more than just the subset of data we’re looking at here, which is focused just on this file to a little bit of execution there.
Let me show you a screenshot about what the eviction process looks like in the public records. We’ve redacted this because we don’t want to call attention to anyone’s name in particular, Lindsay Landlord versus Tina Tenant. Here you can see for instance that there’s a docket number. There are plaintiffs and defendant. There’s a property address. You can see the reason this says nonpayment of rent is the reason for this case. You can see based on the number of entries how many plaintiffs there are, how many defendants there are. Under Massachusetts procedural requirements every plaintiff has to be named, every defendant has to be named so you can state with certainty if you see one defendant that there’s one adult in the household. You can see whether there are attorneys and you can see the general outline of events.
I’ll call attention to the lower right here where there’s an image that’s visible to attorneys especially attorneys working on this particular case. We’re using the public view of the court system so everything that we do you could do. We cannot see images. We can’t read what was written on the notice to quit. We can’t get any more detail than just what is shown here. This is still a lot of information though.
Given that view of the court system, we can ask a variety of questions. For instance, who’s the landlord? Does that look like the corporate entity like it says something .inc, something LLC, or does it look like a natural person like there’s a first and last name there. Who’s the tenant? How many tenants are listed? Does either party have an attorney? What’s the reason that this case was filed? It’s called the initiating action. What is that? Is it nonpayment? Is it cause, meaning someone didn’t follow the rental agreement? Is it no fault, meaning the landlord intends to renovate and the renter hasn’t done anything wrong?
Then of course using other datasets we can attempt to place the case in a broader context. So for instance how many cases are filed on a per capita basis in this municipality? How many times does this plaintiff or defendant name appear in a database? Is this a landlord with a lot of units that affects a lot of people? Is this a renter who’s caught in a cycle of poverty and they’ve been named in cases kind of every 12 months for the last who knows how long? How does this caseload differ from what’s happened in the past?
Of course, given just that focus on the public records there are a lot of questions we cannot ask. For instance, we cannot know although others might if a given renter is known to social services. There’s no personally identifiable information in the court records. There’s no date of birth. There’s no social security number. This is what makes using the court records as a tenant screening a tool that some landlords look at very difficult because you have to do a lot of detective work beyond what’s there to know if the person applying for the housing is the same as was listed in court records because there’s no definitive match up.
It’s not very easy to know how many units the landlord owns. We know of work for instance there’s a researcher named Montgomery who’s done a lot of really difficult work to match up how many units the landlord owns and it’s difficult because landlords have LLCs and trusts and so on, so that’s a different data set. It’s beyond our ability at MassLandlords to integrate.
We can’t know how many children are impacted because as I mentioned earlier minors cannot be named under procedural requirements and should not be named anyways. We can’t answer questions about race or protected class status, although other studies have looked at evictions and how they impact race or how they land disparately on some of us versus others and we can’t really go into the reasons. As I mentioned, I can’t look up the notice to quit with the public access and tell you okay it was because of an illegal dog or an unauthorized resident or something like that. So that’s what we can look at.
Now let me just explain that we looked at cases over two time periods and one of them was what we’re calling the housing crisis baseline. We entered the pandemic with a housing crisis, meaning that a lot of people couldn’t afford to live in Massachusetts anymore, and by comparing what happens now versus what we saw happen then, we can know whether the pandemic is having an impact, whether our policies are protective or inadequate. There’s a picture of a die-in at city hall in Boston, so the housing crisis is nothing new and has been brewing and getting worse for many decades at this point. That’s the before that we can look at.
Now the after is not a Wild West. The state moratorium ended and now everybody’s getting evicted. No! The CDC has a very powerful eviction moratorium. It’s powerful in the sense that the penalties are quite severe. If anyone messes it up, they could lose their property and they could spend a lot of time in jail. The CDC moratorium protects renters indefinitely right now through March 31st if they earn less than $100,000 a year or $200,000 jointly or they filed a zero dollar return in 2019, or they received a stimulus check, so that’s a lot of us here in the Commonwealth. That’s the first condition.
If we also cannot pay full rent if we’re paying as much as we can, we’ve made a good faith effort to apply for government assistance and we really have no place better to go. In other words, if evicted we’d end up doubling up with friends or family or we’d end up in a shelter or somewhere where we’re more likely to be exposed to COVID or other communicable disease. The CDC moratorium says you can’t remove someone from rented premises if they’re covered, and as far as we can tell that’s having a very protective effect because when you look at the total cases over time, you can see before the eviction moratorium, which is this trough here where no cases were filed whatsoever for any reason even if they were unrelated to COVID.
You can see where we’re headed a couple months after. You’ve got a little October. You’ve got a full November. You’ve got a full December there. You can see that we’re kind of in the range of where we were before a lot has been made of one single week where filings were higher. But if you look at the statistical confidence bounds over the natural variability across the entire court system, we’re still within that so there’s only been one week where we were statistically significant above and on a monthly basis we’re still within normal variability, so that’s I think a positive message.
I didn’t outline it on the key findings slide but I think it is a key finding that so far the CDC moratorium has ensured that our evictions in Massachusetts are being no worse than before and I can’t attribute the CDC moratorium to that entirely or i can’t attribute that entirely to the CDC moratorium we also have to recognize the RAFT applications, which I mentioned earlier, are hugely helpful in terms of giving everybody a light at the end of the tunnel, so there’s a lot of stuff we’ve done at the state level is very important too.
All right let’s go a little deeper and look at reasons why are people filing and we’ll start with the baseline. We’re going to introduce an area graph concept here where the area charge indicates by its size what percent of cases that represents and by the picture hopefully a little bit of the deeper meaning of what it means, what that initiating action means.
For instance 73 percent of cases in the baseline study, April-May 2019 were about nonpayment and that’s represented by a person who’s it’s hard a little washed out maybe on your monitor but they’re holding empty pockets, so no ability to pay rent. Twelve percent are for no fault.
We’ve got a proverbial wrecking ball there, so the landlord’s terminating the tenancy because the building’s being moved to another purpose or it’s. being gut renovated or something. Eleven percent were for cause.
We’ve got a picture of a dog that looks like a cute friendly dog. It could be any number of reasons why. The leases typically have many clauses and a violation of any of them if material could result in a cause of filing. Then we’ve got a bank there for foreclosure and then we’ve got a small little empty box for unknown or the reason wasn’t filed, visible to us so. It doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a reason for the eviction but what it means is we couldn’t see it in the data.
That’s the 2019 baseline. What do we see in cases filed since the state moratorium lifted? Essentially the same thing. Nonpayment is still a major reason for filings, 71.8 percent of cases now. We do have a lot of cases that are in the unknown other bucket, this blank box here. Again, it’s not because there’s no reason. It’s because when we’re reading these cases as they come in, the housing court staff who work a very difficult job to get all this stuff entered correctly haven’t formally finished writing in everything, so we’re reading cases maybe a little bit too quickly. You would expect over time that the unknown other would go to zero, which is basically what you see in the baseline period. So there will be a repeat of some unknown others as we go through this, but basically that should be assumed distributed among the other categories in proportion.
One difference with the pandemic compared to the baseline is that no fault evictions are down. The wrecking ball is smaller here, and foreclosures are also down, so it seems clear that clear-outs have stopped or been decreased. They have not stopped potentially and foreclosure protections are strong and having an impact, but overall in terms of what’s driving filings it’s still nonpayment. Just to show you in case the picture is unsatisfying, it was 73 percent before in the baseline and 72 percent in the pandemic.
I’d like to point out here that a cause eviction can be filed even if there’s nonpayment involved. Let’s say for instance I’ve got an unauthorized dog and I haven’t paid full rent I could have a cause eviction even though the dog was not so much of an issue until the rent stopped being paid and the landlord chose to file on a cause basis. It shows up in the system as cause so that’s why we say between 70 percent and 80 percent of evictions are filed for nonpayment because you’ll see later in some of the judgment data a lot of these cause evictions do have elements of nonpayment in them. That’s the reason for these filings. It’s nonpayment primarily.
What can I tell you about where they’re happening? We can look at the baseline and we can look at the different counties of Massachusetts. We’re using a very primitive mapping software in Excel here and it has incorrectly identified some county boundaries as containing ocean space in them so and also kind of unfairly omits the Cape and Islands, but the data is there to look at. Relatively you can see in the baseline, Hampden County was a concern, a hotspot and in the pandemic world that has changed slightly. Worcester and Bristol Counties show up as areas of concern here.
Sorry I wasn’t moving over Hamden correctly before. But Worcester and Bristol are now showing up, and I think what’s becoming obvious to many of us who work in housing in areas where there’s strong market penetration of social services, so to speak where people know that they can get help like in Greater Boston it wasn’t the major area of concern on a per capita basis in the housing crisis baseline nor is it the major area of concern now and especially in the pandemic where a lot of residential real estate in Boston is owned by a few owners who can be reached to voluntarily employ their own eviction moratoria.
I think the Boston area has seen less of a problem than Worcester and Bristol Counties certainly, and one thing also worth pointing out is that Barnstable, this is supposed to represent Barnstable here, Barnstable is in a bad way like Bristol. I can show it in terms of a table, which may be more clear. You can see Hampden County has not had as many evictions per capita since the state moratorium lifted, but Bristol is worse by almost a factor of 2 and Barnstable is worse by almost a factor of 3 on a per capita basis.
Those are the ones I hope someone who works or knows those areas can understand why or what’s happening especially with respect to the safety net is it the case that we haven’t let people know about RAFT or what’s going on, I don’t know the answer, but I do see that that’s a difference and so we can point that out here.
What other differences can we look at? Well we can look at party types. For instance, is it a lot of corporate landlords evicting people or is it mom and pops and this is what the baseline shows. It shows that about 70 percent of all plaintiffs in summary process filings were corporations compared to about 30 percent were natural persons, and of course you know defendants tend to be almost entirely natural people this could be a data error the 0.3 percent of defendants who are corporate it could also be something like agency as leaseholder where for some reason there’s a summary process action against the leaseholder. But it’s a small amount so we won’t worry ourselves about small data quality issues. I think the major point is in the housing crisis baseline. We had about 70 of plaintiffs for corporate landlords of some type.
During the pandemic it’s essentially the same. I mean I can go back and forth and you can see the slight change in area graphs there, but it’s basically no difference and we can look at representation as well it’s let it be a given that defendants that renters tend not to have an attorney because if you cannot afford the rent, you often cannot afford an attorney.
Let me look particularly at plaintiff representation here. Let me focus on just the pandemic, so without comparing to the baseline take my word for it that it’s the chance have procedural requirements in Massachusetts that require an LLC or Inc ink to have an attorney in court even if the LLC is just a mom-and-pop landlord so if one person has one property and they put that property in LLC, they have to hire an attorney.
You can see that clearly here in this picture on the right, two-thirds of all plaintiffs are legally required to have an attorney when they show up at court. You can see the net effect is that about 77 percent or 80 percent of plaintiffs do have attorneys there.
If you look just at the folks who have a choice for whom an attorney is optional you see a smaller subset obviously but you can look at it and say okay if they had a choice did they choose to hire an attorney a fewer than half do so more than half of plaintiffs choose to go it alone.
That’s an opportunity when you think about leveling the playing field where landlords tend to have attorneys and renters don’t, maybe we should let all of these single member LLCs have an officer of the company, the president who’s also the treasurer who’s also the secretary because there’s only one person at LLC. let that person represent the LLC and then maybe it’s better if everybody has attorneys but given limited resources in that case the landlord hasn’t been forced to hire one so the renter and the landlord are more equal footing that’s an idea.
What else can we look at? We can look at household composition so. If you look at the housing crisis baseline you can see clearly that two-thirds of all filings were single adult households. and then a quarter were two adults and so on for increasingly large households. Remember we can’t see children here.
How does that compare to what’s going on in the pandemic? It’s pretty much exactly the same except we have a number of unknown number of adults. remember there’s a data issue where we’re reading cases rather quickly and sometimes not all the defendants have been named or the case has been filed improperly and then it’s amended to add the defendants after. That’s probably what’s happening here.
I’ll just alert you to the possibility that there is a mechanism to protect victims of domestic violence from being named so some of these zero households could really have someone there who’s not been named and also rarely you do hear of cases of child abandonment where there is no adult left in the household. I don’t suspect based on what we’ve seen in the 2019 dataset that we will see that here but it’s a little bit early to tell just spot checking some of these ones that were initially unknown at the first reading. You see defendant names now, so I think you should think of this zero box as being distributed equally.
Now one comment about single adult households, if you look at the census data this is not what Massachusetts looks like. A lot of households have two people in them so there’s a huge disadvantage to being a single income earner or single adult or single head of household. All right and that’s the same baseline to pandemic.
Now given all the sameness that we’ve seen from the baseline to what’s happening now, but also given the fact that it’s too soon to know how these recent pandemic cases are going to turn out, what might we predict about what will happen with these cases that have been filed since the state moratorium lifted and so we can look at the 2019 baseline in detail at how many cases are decided, how much money is owed how many people are removed and get an estimate about what these new cases will look like, so let’s do that now.
Remember that this is not for cases that have recently been filed. This is for the April-May 2019 baseline. Let’s look at dispositions particularly here. Let’s go in and say, “All right a case can be mediated, means they have an agreement. It can be defaulted, meaning someone didn’t show up at all. It could be dismissed, meaning the plaintiff didn’t show up or the plaintiff withdrew the case because the defendant paid the rent or the renter cured the unauthorized dog or who knows what it was, or there could be a hearing what we’re calling having been heard, a bench trial or a jury trial.
Fifty percent of all the cases that were disposed in the April-May 2019 timeframe were mediated, which is shown by the picture here of people talking. Twenty-four percent were disposed by default, meaning the renter didn’t show up at a key step. If you don’t show up to defend yourself, you lose. Twenty percent of cases were dismissed, meaning someone came up with the money or they fixed the problem, or they moved out on their own, but they didn’t move out forcibly. They moved out having somewhere to go and then of course the judge, the small five percent mark is how many cases were heard.
I’ve put an asterisk and this default picture of a person in distress is chosen purposely. I encourage you to study and become familiar with the work of Esther Duflo, an MIT economist. She doesn’t particularly study housing. She studies deep poverty especially in very rural parts of the world, but some of her work can be very insightful to understand why defaults happen. I want you to remember that defaults are happening frequently and they’re also the major reason why someone would be forcibly removed from a unit.
Professor Duflo gives some interesting and I think very actionable guidance on how to help people realize that it’s not hopeless to go to court even if you don’t have money because in court you can discover rental assistance. There’s a chance that you could work out a deal with the landlord. There’s any number of things that could happen, but I think a lot of people despair. It could be that some people are disorganized and they forget to show up for the hearing, but I think really the main issue when you when you dive into it based on anecdotal data only is that a lot of folks figure, “Why would I do this? There’s nothing I can do to stop this. I don’t have the money to pay the rent.” All right so that’s I encourage you something to pay attention to.
I’ll just mention here while we’re on the subject of defaults, we know that defaults are being vacated. All someone has to do is say, “I didn’t show up to my hearing and I’m sorry but I’m here now, so can you please erase that default judgment.” During COVID, they’re being vacated and so that’s impactful and will certainly help people but obviously in terms of housing stabilization, what you’d like to do is avoid the default in the first place, so that’s where the work of Professor Duflo may be useful to some of us. That’s cases that are formally disposed.
Let me look at the outcome by reason, so for instance given that the case was dismissed, defaulted, mediated, or heard what was it about in the first place and you can see that nonpayment of course looms large because it represents most of the cases, so it’s therefore most of the dispositions. You can see that 35.8 percent of disposed cases were mediated nonpayment cases. You can see that 19 percent of disposed cases were nonpayment where someone didn’t show up to defend themselves, so that’s important. That’s important to understand here, the role that mediation plays and the significant disadvantage of defaulting.
We can also look at judgments, so given that a case has been disposed was one party ordered to do something essentially. Was it determined that one party was in the wrong? You have about a 50-50 split, so considering first of all the cases that were filed, which is as we mentioned a couple thousand in this April-May 2019 study period, not all of them had a judgment entered primarily because not all of them had a disposition, so 1.4 percent of cases didn’t have a formal disposition.
It doesn’t mean they were still ongoing at the time we read them. It could be a clerical error where we didn’t have an update there or we misread the case or something, but basically when you look at the cases that do have a disposition, it’s a 50-50 split for how many have a judgment entered where someone is recognized to have done something wrong officially versus not.
There are a lot of mediated agreements that aren’t agreements for judgment. They’re just the mediated agreements. You go into court and nobody’s made an official pronouncement but the parties have on their own agreed that they’re going to do something differently, and that’s where a lot of these disposed cases come into play.
Now if you look at judgments, you can go deeper and say, “Well, what are the judgments by reason of the case?” And you can look at dollar values as well, so this chart looks at how much money has been assigned recognized to one party or another. For instance if I just go back quickly, you can see the 47.5 percent of disposed cases had a judgment entered that’s the same 47.5 percent that we’re looking at here. You look at nonpayment as a percentage. You see about you know a third of these judgments, a third of all disposed cases are going to be judgments for nonpayment. You can see min dollar figures are very small. Twenty-five dollars is the minimum amount for a nonpayment entered as a judgment. The max is very large $46,200 owed by one party to another. I don’t know for that particular case whether the landlord was judged or the renter, or vice versa but I can give some comment on that in a minute.
An average nonpayment case for the baseline before the pandemic was $3,600. You can see the total economic loss here, $6 million for those two months or $7 million if you had in all the other things. Remember, I said cause evictions can have a nonpayment component to them. You definitely see that on average a $1,000 here.
Now if you look at these judgments that are entered on the basis of the outcome, what happened? This is also instructive especially for those of us who are very familiar with the process. Forgive the data error. I don’t know exactly how a judgment should be entered if the case is dismissed, so if you’ll forgive me just let’s ignore that topline there. Now in the case of defaults obviously, you can still have a judgment if someone doesn’t show up to defend themselves and defaults are costly. They can average $2,900. That’s what we’re seeing.
Mediated agreements for judgments, so this is parties have agreed to something and it’s been signed off on by the court as a valid and enforceable agreement. Mediated agreements for judgments on average during this study period are more expensive than not showing up to court. I don’t mean to throw anyone under the bus with that statement, but I think it’s very interesting to ask why and is it the case that remember we’re going to see in a minute how mediated agreements are not followed through on is it the case that renters are only too willing to agree to something because they feel like they have nothing because they’re hopeless. I think that’s something that’s definitely worthy of further research.
Now if the case goes before a judge or jury, the average judgment entered is much smaller because you can have counter claims. “You know, I didn’t pay the rent but also the landlord didn’t fix the place up um and there was leaks and mold and who knows what.” So those don’t tend to weigh in and you see that they do not weigh in as much in a mediated agreement as they do in an actual bench or jury trial.” Okay so that’s judgments by outcome.
Now we can also look remember I said well I don’t know if that $46,000 was owed by the landlord to the renter or vice versa, I think it’s fair to say it’s very likely owed by the renter to the landlord. We have a data quality issue where sometimes the judgments are entered for a plaintiff with a slightly different wording or formality, a Mr. or Mrs. or a middle initial missing or something like that and that makes it hard for us to line up some of these judgments for against plaintiffs or defendants.
We’ve got a 20 percent that we cannot with our algorithms and team effort easily identify, but if you just ignore that line and you focus on plaintiffs 80 percent of judgments versus defendants 0.1 percent, that means there’s an 800 to 1 shot a judgment entered is for the landlord. I think that is the most damning argument against a right to counsel as a stability measure because although it’s very important that each of us have full access to legal remedy, there’s no amount of lawyering that can change economics. If someone doesn’t pay the amount that they agreed to contractually, there’s an 800 to 1 chance that they’re going to lose or there’s a 1 in 800 chance that they’re going to win that case in court. I think that’s very important to recognize how fundamentally important rental subsidy is in eventual outcomes of these cases.
It’s worth looking at the distributions, which we can elucidate here, so if you look at the study period baseline again, all cases these this is kind of an ASCII art histogram because we’re limited in our technology, but you can get a sense for a graph here. These are the histogram buckets. This is a range of $2,300 to $4,800 and this is how many cases relatively are in that range.
For the housing crisis baseline, was the RAFT program, which had a maximum benefit of $4,000, was that well suited to the time? Yes it was to the extent that you can’t go up to $20,000, which would have covered most of the curve entirely. RAFT is pretty well suited for that. You get about you know a half of this line and all the stuff above it.
Now if you look at cause evictions, you see where this large spike comes from. Is this really people being evicted because they didn’t pay $115? Not really. It’s because there was an eviction for cause for something else and the filing and service fees were added on to the judgment, so that spike on the previous slide is really not about small dollar figure evictions. It’s about the fact that the landlord can be reimbursed for the cost of bringing the case. The landlord fronts the money and theoretically the renter owes it in the end.
When you look at the nonpayment distribution, you still do see small judgments there, but again it’s possible that a lot of the unpaid rent has been cured by counter-claims essentially and of course the distribution is where we focus on. Is the RAFT-COVID expansion, which gives benefits up to $10,000 well-structured? Yes, it is to the extent that it will cover these first lines and almost all of this one, and it leaves off you know a small number of folks who are above the limit. Obviously, you’d like to have an infinite ability to pay rent arrears or you’d like to have rent arrear spotted sooner so that there can be early intervention, but a $10,000 limit seems well justified.
Now let’s look at executions, forced move outs here and then we’ll wrap up. We’ll head towards the conclusion of this webinar. We can look at the whole process if a judgment is entered and the judgment includes a possession or a money claim such that the landlord can seek to enforce payment or can seek to get a physical removal, they have to request that a document called an execution be issued.
We can see how many are requested in the docket history. We can then see how many are issued and then when an execution for possession only is levied, meaning someone is physically removed, it must be returned to the court. If the execution has a money component to it, the landlord can hold on to that and attempt to collect on it regardless of whether someone was removed physically from the premises so we have a little bit of a ambiguity in the data. Was an issued execution actually levied? We cannot say, but I can say with certainty that a levied execution was levied.
About 50 percent of cases that have a judgment entered one side did something that the court recognizes as owing to the other 50 percent issued, 10 percent levied for sure. Now you can look at of the ones that are known to be levied why and you can see just as in filing, nonpayment is the primary reason that you have executions levied, so obviously if you can address nonpayment you can address the majority of physical removals in Massachusetts.
This next slide is going to be really significant because you can look at executions known to be levied by outcome and you can see very clearly that there are very few executions levied based on hearings judge or jury trials compared to the number levied for renters who are not showing up to court, defaulting or who are not following through on a mediated agreement.
You can structure a mediated agreement such that it is a mediated agreement for judgment and if the renter doesn’t pay execution is to issue and that’s what’s catching a lot of people who are being physically removed from their homes. I’ll call out attention to it again this work of Esther Duflo about hopelessness or hope as a capability is really significant in addressing the reasons for physical removal.
I hope that point registers with someone who can go in and try to provide a different level of support or services to get people to court in the first place and then to monitor mediated agreement compliance and make sure that they follow through on it, and if they can’t then, to work with the landlord prior to that execution being issued because it’s possible to mediate the mediated agreement. You can keep iterating on it as long as both parties are talking. That’s I think one of the most significant findings from our study.
I’ll give you a couple more insights on executions. Given the cases about foreclosure or cause or nonpayment, what’s the odds of a forced move out? Here, a nonpayment case has about a four percent chance that we’ll know the execution is going to be levied. That’s different from foreclosure. Foreclosure hasn’t typically appeared anywhere in the data as a major source of concern, but if there is a foreclosure case it is far more hopeless for the renter than a nonpayment case , so maybe that’s useful to someone who can act on that knowledge.
Then finally given a case ends with a certain outcome, what are the chance of a forced move-out? a known levy of execution and here again default shows as the major issue not having shown up to court, a sense of hopelessness about what the court procedure will result in is the major focus opportunity for those of us who work in housing stability. Again, again data quality. I mean how should a dismissed case result in a forced move-out? It shouldn’t but forgive me the 0.1 percent there.
Regardless of what the outcome is, we can also look at duration. I just have one slide on this because it will come up a lot. You can look at the shortest possible cases. You say well this case was dismissed in a day, and it was mediated in the day and maybe that’s accurate, but maybe it’s a clerical misunderstanding because we’re looking at when the case is filed and when the last disposition is and there can sometimes be multiple dispositions for events and so on.
It’s not always clear exactly how long the case has lasted, but certainly it’s possible to do things quickly, and if you look at the average which is influenced by these questionable zeros, it is about a couple weeks, much longer for a hearing. Obviously, a judge, a trial a bench trial or a jury trial it’ll be much longer than a mediation, and that’s obvious. It should be no surprise.
What may be more of a surprise to some is that the longest evictions extend for years and they’re not foreclosures particularly. I have different data that we can show it’s available on the site but foreclosures do whine through the courts in a lot of different ways and do take a long time but some of these other cases, they’re just straight nonpayment and they can take a very, very long time. You’re going to hear landlords say evictions are impossibly long and that’s true and you’re going to hear renter advocates say evictions are impossibly quick, and that’s also true. Both things can be true.
You can cross-check this data by looking at Masscourts.org and checking it yourself, counting yourself. There’s no magic to it. We have published all of these figures at MassLandlords.net/policy/eviction-data and we’re going to continue to publish these. The filings report will be weekly. The monthly outcomes report will start again as soon as we get caught up on filings.
Here I’d like to call attention one more time to the Eviction Lab. They currently have published on their site that in Massachusetts, we should expect 43 evictions per day based on their study in the past. That cannot be independently verified by us. Our data show clearly that 19 executions are issued per day and under Massachusetts law, one would not expect a single forced removal more than that. That would be illegal and the landlord would go to jail for it and the renter would be put back in the property.
We know for sure that four a day are levied, so the truth of how many evictions, how many force removals there are, is in the 4-19 range. The Eviction Lab methodology counts all cases that have the word possession present as an eviction and it’s not fully useful because a mediated agreement might say no execution for possession to issue in the event of default or something like that, but the immediate agreement is being complied with, and the renter’s still there and the landlord’s still getting paid as well.
That Eviction Lab, I don’t mean to disparage it, it’s focused on a national problem. As I mentioned what evictions look like in Massachusetts are not what evictions look like in Georgia, and there’s a need to address this and to publish the truth of it, and in a lot of cases it is quite bad but in Massachusetts it’s not quite that bad.
I can offer one more cross check. We’ve done two surveys of the eviction moving industry. They have to be bonded and insured. There’s only so many, you can actually call everyone. When we did this in 2015 and we asked them for their volume, we estimated for our study period that there were seven bonded move-outs per day, so that puts the range of 4 to 19 and puts it closer to the 4 side.
Now in the pandemic world, we’re hearing that approximately half of the scheduled levies do not actually take place because the renters have moved or they’ve come up with money to cure, so it may be that the truth has moved from 7 to more like 10 or 11, but in any event it’s not the 42 per day, so I think you can take comfort knowing that.
Now this is relevant because in national and Massachusetts politics, we tend to focus on the symptoms, so we say renters are in court therefore we need a right to counsel. It is ideal that everyone should have an attorney especially in housing, which has gotten very complicated, but the real assistance needed to prevent the levy of execution looks like it’s administrative and financial.
You make an agreement that we can agree to, show up to court follow up with the agreement and make sure you make your payments. That could benefit from an attorney but it doesn’t require legal expertise to do that, so maybe right bookkeeping would be a similarly impactful thing. I don’t mean to be facetious but you know with limited resources, what should we work on?
A lot of folks say you know renters are sometimes evicted, therefore we need to write a first refusal to own property it’s not going to make it any more affordable given that poverty is what’s driving a lot of these evictions. It doesn’t help to have borrowed money to pay the mortgage, which might replace your rent and on top of that to have to pay taxes, insurance, repairs because if you don’t have the income for it, eventually you’re going to get some in trouble financially.
Now we say renters get court records, so we need eviction ceiling. There’s a lot of the eviction ceiling proposals especially recently, but obviously it’s better that we shouldn’t end up in court in the first place. Nobody wants to be in court. We hear people say, “Well, renters can’t pay a rent increase; therefore we need rent control and just cause eviction right,” but as we demonstrated we’re by and large not talking about small amounts. It’s not like they can’t pay the $25 a month increase. It’s that huge like economic disruption happen, a pandemic, can’t work job not coming back anytime soon. It’s the base front that’s going unpaid, so it’s not the increase that really will save people.
Finally, eviction moratoriums, extremely impactful as we’ve seen with the CDC moratorium when coupled with RAFT, so the CDC moratorium is operating in the presence of a strong state safety net where we have three times as many rental assistance applications as we have case filings, so it looks like the normal housing crisis to us here.
I think it’s really important to recognize that an eviction moratorium without a subsidy is meaningless, and with the subsidy seems to be the right thing to do. I’ll just give some food for thought here and talk about some real root cause solutions here that I propose exist but maybe outside the Overton window, which is the spectrum of political feasibility. I mean I think it’s very clear especially from other studies. I mentioned we can’t look at rates here but it’s very clear that eviction lands unfairly disproportionately on people of color and so we really need to look at how do we close that black-white wealth gap which is very real in Massachusetts no less than in the country.
Related to that, there’s a lot of wealth in real estate zoning has explicitly racist origins. We’ve written about this on our site, and we need to go deeper into zoning far beyond housing choice. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have a single family home anymore but it would mean that you can’t stop your neighbor from having a duplex or three-decker, provided it meets all the other requirements, green space, and noise and all that and min lot sizes.
You can see in terms of the relative market sizes for 2019 MLS data, $27 billion of single families sold versus $4 billion in multi-families, there’s a lot of wealth in single-family real estate and it is the context in which we operate because all of us who work in rental housing have been concentrated into parts of the state where rental housing is legal and the rest of it is not legal. We can’t have density.
I’ll just leave you without any specific recommendations with some controversial thoughts. Let me summarize key findings and recommendations.
Intervene early. Somehow we have to do a better job of helping people to form more economically stable households until we can get to the point where the housing we have is sized for the households we have.
The likeliest outcome of housing court is not an eviction, and that’s really important to communicate to renters especially who experience a state of hopelessness when confronted with legal process and who might default court data do not show who moves out at the last minute on their own, but we can estimate it’s only about 10 percent f filings so if you end up in housing court, there’s only about a 1 in 10 chance and it’s primarily if you don’t show up or you can’t follow through on an agreement that you’ll be physically removed so we have a very strong safety net in Massachusetts.
Finally the goals of anti-displacement efforts are worthy and are working. It’s about showing up to court, signing sustainable agreements, coordinating quickly to get rental assistance, and following through after-mediation.
So that takes us over. I apologize for the three-minute overage here.
If you have any questions or comments, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org especially if you think we’ve made a mistake. As I mentioned at the outset, the path to the truth is not a straight shot, so sometimes we’ll need to correct or amend. I’m very glad to hear anything you might have to say about what we’ve put together. I will mention that this is uh recorded and we’ll post it as soon as we have a chance to download post process re-upload and configure the site so give us until Monday and then this recording will be live.
Questions and Answers
All right, I will stop sharing there so I can see the Q&A panel let me just here look at some questions. Let’s see if we have. We don’t have very many questions yet, as a matter of fact.
“Why is unknown are there so much higher during the pandemic?”
It’s just because we are looking at cases as they’re being filed and the clerks of the court have a tremendous amount of work to do, so sometimes when we’re looking at cases, the data hasn’t been entered fully yet. It’s not that there’s a mystery about why these cases are happening. It’s just that we have a data issue. We would expect when we look at the outcomes that those cases would be fully explained, so we’ll have a clear data after the fact.
A question about fundamental terminology. “What does it mean for an execution to be levied?”
A levy of execution is the legal term for the physical removal of someone from a building so that’s when a sheriff or constable enters with a gun on their hip and they say you’re leaving and the movers start to remove someone’s belongings, so that’s what a levy of execution is. That’s the legal terminology for what we commonly think of as an eviction.
“Why comment about why rental subsidy is important related to the eviction outcome? Sorry, I missed that point.”
I think the main thing is that if you have rental subsidy available, then a mediated agreement is possible so let’s say for instance a renter owes some large amount of money, $8,000, and RAFT is available and the renter has already qualified for that. The mediator can take that to the landlord and say why do you want to proceed with eviction. You’re going to get every penny that you asked for just agree to this immediate agreement and wait for the RAFT to come in.”
That’s a very powerful thing so rental subsidy is there. It completely changes the outcome of the eviction. If on the other hand rental subsidy is uncertain and the landlord is not sure whether RAFT will be approved and they have the opportunity to go forward with the case now and potentially get a judgment that would lead to a levy of execution. the landlord can return that property to income generation and the renter loses their home and it’s because RAFT wasn’t quick enough to come in with an answer there.
The outcome is very much dependent on that safety net and of course there’s a legitimate amount of work to be done to prevent RAFT fraud, so that’s why early intervention is so powerful. If you can identify people who are at risk of housing instability soon and help them to apply for RAFT before they get to court, you give the administrators time to do that essential work, so I hope that’s more clear now.
There’s a question about how the courts have not scheduled a hearing yet as they don’t know what to do with certain cases. I mean the courts are working very hard and very professionally to make sure that hearings are scheduled as quickly as possible, but there’s a lot of limitations now, there’s a lot of changes in the rules and procedures and there’s an inadequate ability to deal with all the cases that are being filed because remember that graph picked up again. It looked like normal but there was a whole backlog of stuff from beforehand that hadn’t been disposed of, so the courts are still in a large degree playing catch-up for that.
“Are we planning on writing this up and so on?”
I mean I would be happy to collaborate with anyone who would like to write it up but we don’t have access to journals or like the law review or something like that, but the data is out there and our team are available so we will. Certainly, I’m sure there will be blog articles about it and other informal write-ups.
“Do we have data on how many have taken advantage of lawyer for the day or RAFT ERMA?”
It’s not at all clear based on the court records whether a case has been dismissed because RAFT came in or an attorney was assigned because of legal services or some other limited assistance representation where the attorney gets listed, so I can’t really answer that, but maybe in collaboration with the state agency we’d be able to combine data sets and we’d know more clearly. I think the courts are working on identifying that as well.
“A question about President Biden’s eviction executive order. Where are we now?”
That CDC moratorium will continue to protect renters from a forced removal through March 31st, and we expect that to be very quickly followed up by additional rental subsidy already. It’s known um that $400 million of additional rental subsidies coming to Massachusetts from the federal government, so that’s about four times as much as we’ve had today from any source. The state put in $100 million and now there’s $400 million coming from the federal government, so our best estimate is that we’re halfway through paying for the housing during the pandemic. We’re going to need another $500 million by the time we’re through this, so I hope that’s helpful.
“It wasn’t clear in the data if the executions were for possession or for rent or both.”
That is correct. That’s an ambiguity. Maybe it’s possible for us to clear that up but in the data we presented today, we don’t have that which is why I said or tried to explain that there are so many executions issued and so many known to be levied, and the truth about how many are levied is somewhere between that 50 percent of cases with judgments and 10 percent of cases with judgments.
A notice period if there’s no set rent payment period is going to be 90 days advance notice. I mean if it’s a tenancy-at-will typically that would be the interval at which rent is paid so if you pay rent on a 90-day basis, it could be otherwise I would expect it to be more like 30 days or one full rental period. Remember, I’m not an attorney though.
District court and housing court have standing orders. They are temporarily suspended. Summary process rules and timelines, they’ve suspended aspects of them in order to comply with various requirements like the CDC eviction moratorium and so on.
“Is there any number on tenants working on rental assistance?
I mean I don’t have any official data but what I’ve heard anecdotally is somewhere between 15,000 and 25, 000 applications for rental assistance are pending in the state. I think it’s probably more on the low side at this point.
“Can RAFT cover an elderly tenant who’s renting a bedroom?
I mean yes if you’re unsure whether you might be qualified for RAFT, I would encourage you to apply because under the new COVID guidelines, a lot more households are eligible including single elderly tenants including in rooming situations. I think that would all be eligible.
“Can I follow through with my tenants ERMA application filed a couple of months ago but now they’ve vacated my unit?”
That’s going to be a question for an attorney and it speaks to some of the difference between what we see as a known levy of execution and when a renter moves out on their own. Hopefully, they have some place good to go, but that’s going to be a difficult thing to find out. I would suspect that you would not be eligible for the subsidy at that point.
“Is Biden’s executive order on evictions [unintelligible 1:11:26] CDC guidelines?”
Biden’s executive order is technically a request of the CDC to renew exactly what they’ve established. We expect that request to be followed through maybe. It maybe has been and I’m a little out of date a day or so, but I think it’s going to be the same thing through March 31st.
I guess the last question here that I’ll address. “It was mentioned that a hub or group can consolidate to represent for whatever reasons use not using an attorney for eviction process.”
I think the intent was to say that uh if a landlord has got a corporate entity, then they need to have an attorney by court procedure there, and if they don’t, then they have the option of not having an attorney, so I’m not sure I understand the question fully but I hope that addresses part of it.
“Are there any programs for landlords to file for funding on rent for a tenant that has not been paying the rent due to losing their job because of COVID or if the attendant does not pick up the phone or answer the door, so filing RAFT or ERMA is hard to do. I mean yeah it speaks to the issue of hopelessness as a cause for eviction here.
It’s very important to let your renters know first of all that you can apply for RAFT on their behalf. That’s step one. all they have to do is sign a form you can fill out the five-page form and leave it with them, send it via email leave it at their door on their door under their door. Follow up with them and let them know that this can be taken care of and they can be helped if only they would just signed, so I encourage you to try to work. through that. I know a lot of people are in a bad way right now.
“Can the statistical material be posted for those who want to go through it?”
Yes, it is. It’s visible at Masslords.net, .net/policy/eviction-data. There’s no spreadsheets downloadable there but if you’re interested in getting the actual spreadsheet data, then just email us, email@example.com and we will be able to work with you on that. I’ve posted the link there so you can see at least the tables.
We’re over by about 15 minutes. I do want to be respectful of folks who would stay through no matter how long we lasted to the detriment of their schedule, so we’ll end there. But I will promise if there are any further questions you have we have saved them all and we can follow up with you after especially if you’re a member or registered for this event then we can see that and we can get in touch with you about the answer.
I hope this has been very helpful and insightful. I hope especially the word gets out to folks who work in housing stability about some new ways that we might approach, certain dynamics especially levy of execution, which seems to me to be an imminently fixable problem here during this pandemic.
Thank you all for your attention and your support. We will end there. Take care and stay safe.