A study published yesterday by Georgetown University concludes that the reality of who gets sued for eviction in D.C. is a racial and economic justice issue.
The study, based on court data from 2014-2018, shows that both eviction filings and actually carried-out evictions disproportionately impact households in Wards 7 and 8, and that there is a positive correlation between the number of eviction cases filed per renter and the share of Black residents in a census tract.
The researchers’ findings paint a picture of a small number of landlords using the courts to collect rent from the most economically burdened D.C. residents. Landlords file an average of 32,000 eviction cases each year, impacting 18,000 unique households, or 11 percent of all District renters. 93% of eviction cases filed were for nonpayment of rent. The amount of rent sought (on average) was just $1,207 -- less than the median monthly rent of $1,487 for D.C. In 2018, nearly half (47%) of the eviction cases were filed by just 20 landlords, even though they owned only 21% of all rental units. Nearly a quarter (23%) of the cases filed were against renters who receive some kind of subsidy.
The study comes at a moment of public reckoning over racial and economic justice heightened by the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, the D.C. Council took steps to temporarily address some of the problems highlighted by the Georgetown study, including legislation to seal certain past eviction records and policies to combat “sewer service” (where tenants never even get notice of an eviction case against them until it is too late). Legal Aid urges the Council to permanently enact the Eviction Record Sealing Authority Amendment Act and the Fair Tenant Screening Act.
The study concludes that lasting solutions are needed to fix the inequities of the current system. It recommends policies to disincentivize landlords from using the courts as a means to collect rent (such as prohibiting filing an eviction case for tenants who owe less than $600), ensuring that tenants have access to a lawyer, and greater investment in long-term rental assistance programs.