Weak Landlord-Tenant Laws Can Increase Post-Disaster Eviction Rates

A new paper in Housing Policy Debate, Preventing Evictions after Disasters: The Role of Landlord-Tenant Law,” examines how landlord-tenant laws in four states affected eviction rates following natural disasters. In states with laws and policies that generally favor landlords, eviction rates increased by 16% to 42% in disaster-affected areas, even if the state also had some tenant protections in place. In contrast, where landlord-tenant law is generally oriented toward protecting tenants from displacement and uninhabitable conditions, there was no significant increase in the eviction rates in areas affected by disasters.

The authors examine evictions during disaster recovery periods in Florida, Connecticut, South Carolina, and Alabama. Drawing on an existing typology of state landlord-tenant laws, the authors characterize Florida’s landlord-tenant legal environment as pro-business (pro-landlord), Connecticut’s as protectionist (pro-tenant), and South Carolina’s and Alabama’s as contradictory (mixed). In pro-business states, fewer landlord-tenant statutes exist, provisions tend to favor landlords, and few if any statutory protections support renters around maintenance issues. In protectionist states, landlord-tenant law more often includes tenant-friendly policies like rent control, charging interest on security deposits, or offering stronger nondiscrimination clauses. In contradictory states, landlord-tenant law contains a mixture of pro-landlord policies and statutory protections for renters.

The study explores the rise in neighborhood-level eviction rates, using Eviction Lab census block group-level data on eviction judgements for the year prior to and the year following each storm. The authors studied patterns in Connecticut following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, in Florida and southern Alabama after flooding in 2014, and in South Carolina following Hurricane Joaquin in 2015. In each state, researchers compared counties eligible for Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) assistance to contiguous counties not eligible for assistance. The disaster-affected areas and nonaffected areas had similar poverty rates and similar shares of renter households in each respective area. The researchers controlled for socio-economic factors, race and ethnicity, median age of the housing stock, and the percentage of rent-burdened households, to ensure a fair comparison between affected and unaffected areas.

In Florida, the pro-business state, eviction rates rose by 33% in disaster-affected counties, compared to non-affected counties. In Alabama, rates rose by 42% in affected counties compared to non-affected counties, while in South Carolina, rates rose by 16% following the storm. In Connecticut, however, the eviction rate was not significantly higher in disaster-affected areas. The results indicate that evictions increase sharply following natural disasters in places where landlord-tenant law generally favors landlords, even if they are mixed with tenant protections. Further research is needed to identify which specific tenant protections or pro-landlord provisions affect evictions.

Read the study at: https://bit.ly/3hT1OtU