Study Finds Providing Legal Information to Tenants Facing Eviction Decreased Unfavorable Eviction Outcomes

A new study from researchers at Tulane University and Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative, “Eviction Court Outcomes and Access to Procedural Knowledge: Evidence from a Tenant-Focused Intervention in New Orleans,” examines whether access to knowledge about eviction court procedures affected tenants’ eviction case outcomes. Information about the eviction process was distributed through the Tenant Early Eviction Notification System (TEENS), an outreach program aimed at better protecting tenants facing eviction. Analysis then found that tenants who were contacted with eviction procedure information had a 13% lower probability of receiving a “rule absolute judgement” compared to tenants who were not contacted. Direct contact with tenants through phone calls and in-person canvassing was the most effective means of decreasing unfavorable eviction rulings.

Using tenant contact information from eviction filing paperwork, volunteers contacted tenants via door-to-door canvassing, postcards, and phone calls. The information provided to the contacted tenants included court hearing procedures and explanations of how to apply for rental assistance. Because the study took place while the federal eviction moratorium was in effect, the outreach materials also encouraged tenants to complete a CDC declaration form attesting to financial hardship. Volunteers attended each eviction hearing to record the eviction case ruling. Due to limited volunteer capacity, only a portion of tenants were contacted. Even so, the successful hearing visits allowed researchers to compare the eviction case outcomes for tenants who received information with the outcomes of tenants who did not.

The researchers found that for the 215 tenants who were successfully contacted, the probability of receiving a rule absolute judgement was 13% lower compared to tenants who were not contacted. This type of ruling appears on a tenant’s record and requires the tenant to vacate a property, typically within 24 hours. Among tenants who were contacted, 25.6% had their case dismissed compared to 14.0% of those who were not contacted. Tenants who were contacted also had a higher chance of reaching a consent judgement agreement (31.6%) compared to those who were not contacted (24.0%). While a consent judgement often resulted in an order to vacate, these tenants were given more time to leave the property, and the judgement did not go on the tenant’s record.

Direct contact with tenants via a phone or in-person conversation was shown to be a more effective means of providing information than indirect contact. Phone calls were shown to be most effective; tenants who had a phone conversation with a volunteer had a 25% lower probability of receiving an eviction on their record, compared to an 18% lower probability for tenants who received a voicemail.

Procedural case information is not easily accessible to tenants, but these findings reveal that such information could help protect renters in eviction cases. The authors highlight right-to-counsel programs as one promising way to equip tenants with lawyers who have existing knowledge of court processes. The authors also emphasize the importance of municipal funding for eviction prevention programs, such as TEENS, to ensure their survival and success.

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