We’ve all heard the horror stories.
The evil landlord who refuses to make necessary repairs, or ignores black mold or insect infestations. Or worse.
The tenant from hell who disturbs all of the neighbors, or damages the property, or uses it as a drug lab. Or worse.
We probably don’t hear as often about the tenant who loses his job and can no longer afford the rent. Or about the landlord who has no choice but to raise the rent, above what her tenants can reasonably afford, to compensate for higher utility bills or property taxes or another built-in cost.
But it is increasingly difficult to avoid hearing about where such circumstances usually end — in evictions.
According to a report late last year by the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, Akron’s eviction rate is the highest in Ohio and 24th highest nationwide. In Akron, nearly seven renters are evicted from their homes every day, the Beacon Journal reported in mid-December. In 2016, there were 2,492 evictions in the city, where the eviction rate of 6.06% was 2.34 percentage points above the national average.
The problem, of course, is not limited to Akron. Just in Ohio, Dayton ranked 26th nationally with an eviction rate of 5.94%, Toledo 30th (5.63), Cincinnati 46th (4.70), Columbus 52nd (4.55) and Cleveland 53rd (4.53).
Nationwide, an astounding 1 of every 50 renters was evicted in 2016, when 2.3 million eviction notices — four per minute — were filed in the U.S.
Not surprisingly, the burden of eviction has been borne most heavily by the lower and middle classes, who are most likely to rent and have seen their income fall steadily in relation to rent payments. According to a 2018 Harvard University study, median rent payments have climbed by 61% since 1960 while median renter income has grown by just 5%.
Fortunately, the problem is not going unnoticed.
In Congress, Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio joined with Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennett of Colorado in December to introduce the Eviction Crisis Act, which would establish a federal committee to examine data and policies to help prevent evictions or reduce their impact. In addition, it would provide money to “track evictions, analyze laws involving tenants and landlords and examine the factors leading to evictions,” according to The Columbus Dispatch.
Crucially, the legislation would also create an emergency fund to help tenants pay rent in extraordinary situations, Portman told the Dispatch.
“If you miss a rent payment, the emergency assistance fund would be there to help,” Portman said. “Lots of landlords would be interested. They don’t want to go through evictions.”
Still, Akron municipal judges wisely are not content to wait for the U.S. Congress to take action. The judges are set to vote Jan. 17 on “new rules requiring more of landlords who evict tenants while giving tenants the chance to seal such cases, which can bar them from finding an apartment in the future, even if they won the eviction case or a judge tossed it out,” the Beacon Journal’s Doug Livingston reported.
Although we typically prefer public records to remain open, we can see the public interest in making an exception in eviction cases judged to have been filed without merit.
Local landlords, however, are already sounding the alarm, warning the new rules will go too far and empower tenants at their expense. That is a legitimate risk, and we urge the judges to proceed with caution and strike the proper balance.
All of us — tenants, landlords or not — have an interest in seeing this issue resolved. Too much for too many is at stake.
Akron Beacon Journal