Wednesday, May 30, 2018
One statistic is always missing from any debate on California housing: the number of tenants facing eviction annually. Tenants Together, California’s statewide organization for renters’ rights, recently obtained and analyzed eviction data from the state’s Judicial Council. Although the Judicial Council collects eviction data, its annual reports do not set forth its eviction data. Given the statewide displacement crisis, Tenants Together requested the raw eviction data which gives an important window into the scope of the crisis.
The most recent records show an average of 166,337 unlawful detainer (UD) cases filed per year over the last three years. With an average of 2.9 people per renter household, an estimated 500,000 California tenants faced court eviction each year.
In California Evictions are Fast and Frequent, authored by Aimee Inglis & Dean Preston, Tenants Together releases and analyzes this data, including a breakdown by county. Tenants Together also teamed up with the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project to release an interactive eviction map with the results.
This data is a significant addition to national data released earlier this year. Researchers at Eviction Lab, a project led by Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, identified 43,000 evictions in California last year. However, due to the masking of unlawful detainer records from public view in California, the full spectrum of eviction data is unavailable using standard research tools. Eviction Lab noted the limits on its California research when it released the national data and the need for further research.
Tenants Together and its member organizations have been working for years to gather more accurate eviction data, particularly at the local level. In 2015, TT partnered with the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project to obtain eviction data from Alameda County. TT sought and obtained the addresses of each eviction in Alameda. In this latest effort, TT went directly to the Judicial Council seeking data on filings in all California counties.
The public release of statewide eviction data is particularly timely as the California Assembly prepares to vote on AB 2925, a state bill authored by Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D – Oakland) which would require landlords to state their reason for evicting tenants. Under current California law, landlords need not state their cause for eviction, leaving tenants vulnerable to arbitrary and retaliatory evictions. The landlord lobby strongly opposes AB 2925, with a showdown expected on the Assembly floor this week.
As TT writes in the report, “The data represents the tip of the iceberg when it comes to displacement. Most evictions do not go through the court process since landlords give eviction notices prior to the filing of unlawful detainer eviction lawsuits. Tenants who are served with this first notice to terminate tenancy know that they have limited rights and limited access to legal representation. In many cases, landlords serve a notice and tenants just move out. For every tenant facing a court filed eviction, there are others displaced from their homes who do not show up in court filing data because they moved by the end of the notice period. Currently, there is no statewide data on the number of notices to terminate tenancy served on tenants because California law does not require those notices to be filed with any government agency.”
Among the policy recommendations in the report, Tenants Together calls for further tracking of eviction notices, not just court filings. TT predicts that such research will show that over a million Californians each year face involuntary displacement from their homes.
The Judicial Council data also reveals that eviction court cases move through the system at breakneck speed, contrary to talking points from the California Apartment Association, which represents residential landlords. According to the Judicial Council’s 2017 Court Statistics Report, nearly 75% of eviction cases are resolved within 45 days of filing, and nearly 60% are resolved within a month. Other civil cases take months or years to resolve. This finding rebuts misinformation from landlord industry lobbyists that it takes many months to evict tenants who violate the terms of their lease.
Tenants Together is California’s only statewide renters' rights organization. With 50 member organizations across the state, Tenants Together works to improve the lives of California’s tenants through education, organizing and advocacy, and seeks to galvanize a statewide movement for renters’ rights. For more information, visit www.tenantstogether.org or follow us at facebook.com/tenantstogether or @tenantstogether on Twitter.