Mass Evictions Didn’t Result After U.S. Ban Ended, Despite Fears

When the federal moratorium on evictions ended in August, many feared that hundreds of thousands of tenants would soon be out on the streets. More than six weeks later, that hasn’t happened.

Instead, a more modest uptick in evictions reflects how renter protections at the city and state levels still remain in parts of the country, housing attorneys and advocates said. Landlords, meanwhile, say the risk of an eviction epidemic was always overstated and that most building owners have been willing to work with cash-strapped tenants.

Both groups also think that federal rental assistance, slow to get off the ground earlier this year, is now helping prevent many new eviction filings.

Eviction filings in court—which are how landlords begin the process of removing tenants from their homes—were up 8.7% in September from August, according to the Eviction Lab, a research initiative at Princeton University that tracks filings in more than 30 cities. But the rate is still low on a historic basis, and, at 36,796 filings, it is roughly half the average September rate pre-pandemic.

Residents in Jackson, Miss., sought support at a rental-assistance fair in July, one of many local programs that have aided some tenants after the federal eviction ban expired.



Photo:

Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

While subdued eviction rates offer only an early and incomplete look at the issue, “what is out so far is certainly better than anyone’s previous best case scenario for the month after the moratorium,” said

Gene Sperling,

a senior adviser to President Biden.

Eviction rates could still accelerate. Courts are now hearing a backlog of cases filed earlier in the pandemic. Rental assistance is still moving too slowly and is inadequate in some places, said

David Dworkin,

a former U.S. Treasury official and president and chief executive of the National Housing Conference, a Washington affordable housing-advocacy group. “We’ve got a long way to go,” Mr. Dworkin said.

In some places, evictions aren’t slowing. Houston and Jacksonville, Fla., which lack some of the local protections found in other cities, ran much closer to their historical eviction levels last month.

The federal moratorium, which began in September 2020 when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention implemented it to slow viral spread, failed to stop all evictions, and some courts enforced the ban more rigorously than others. But the policy greatly reduced the number of new eviction filings, housing analysts say.

Once the ban ended, many analysts expected filings to surge. Millions of renters were behind on their payments, including many who thought they were at risk of being evicted soon, census surveys and other reports showed.

The Biden administration issued a new eviction moratorium, responding to pressure from progressive Democrats. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains how this friction exposed a rift between the White House and some Democrats that could affect future legislation. Photo illustration: Adam Falk

One reason that didn’t happen is because rental-assistance programs are now putting out more money and landlords are eager to get the funds, said

Doug Bibby,

president of the National Multifamily Housing Council, a landlord trade group. About 20% of $46.5 billion in available federal rent aid has been approved or paid to landlords and tenants, Mr. Bibby said.

Nearly half of renters nationally still lived in areas with eviction bans or other pandemic eviction protections after the federal ban ended, according to the Urban Institute, a Washington housing think tank. California’s statewide eviction ban has since ended, though landlords must apply for rental assistance before a court can issue an eviction summons.

Local governments have made other changes that have limited eviction filings. Philadelphia requires landlords to go through out-of-court mediation and apply for rental assistance before they can file for an eviction. The assistance program there has received about 65,000 applications this year.

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Activists protested on Aug. 11 against evictions in New York City.



Photo:

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

“If you view those applications as cases that potentially would have gone into court, that would be three times the volume that the court had seen prior to the pandemic in any given year,” said

Kadeem Morris,

staff attorney at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia is also among a handful of cities that plan or have already started to guarantee tenants the right to legal counsel, which advocates say can lead to fewer court filings. In September, new eviction cases in the city of Philadelphia were 71% below their pre-pandemic average, according to the Eviction Lab.

Virginia has passed several changes to make its rental laws more favorable to tenants. The state legislature last year extended tenants’ window to pay missed rent before landlords can file for eviction from five days to 14, a measure that will stay in effect until at least next June. For renters who are employed, that extension gives many a full pay period to settle their debt and avoid a court summons, said

Marty Wegbreit,

director of litigation at the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society.

Eviction filings in Richmond were 84% lower than their pre-pandemic average in September, according to the Eviction Lab. But in what could prove to be a sign of things to come, the city’s eviction filings were rising in October, the lab said.

Write to Will Parker at will.parker@wsj.com

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