LSC Examines Illegal Evictions in New Housing Task Force Brief
Director of Communications and Media Relations
WASHINGTON—The Legal Services Corporation’s (LSC) Housing Task Force released an issue brief today that presents new research on illegal evictions in the United States. In addition to detailing how and why illegal evictions take place, the brief also showcases legal aid interventions, public policies and other protections that can help tenants stay housed.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, federal, state and local governments adopted various measures to prevent a dangerous spike in evictions as the country faced a surge in joblessness, infections, loss of life and economic uncertainty. Eviction moratoria and other actions are widely credited with keeping legal evictions—those pursued through the court system in accordance with state and local laws—at low levels during 2020 and 2021.
At the same time, civil legal aid providers noted an increase in illegal evictions as some landlords moved forward with removing tenants without due process. Many tenants found themselves locked out without notice, had their utilities shut off, faced threats and intimidation or had their belongings emptied onto the sidewalk.
In a July 2020 survey of 100 legal aid and civil rights attorneys in 38 states, the National Housing Law Project found that 91% of respondents reported illegal evictions were happening in their areas. This included 53% of respondents who said tenants were being illegally locked out of their homes by landlords.
“We’re seeing that low-income and minority families are disproportionately impacted by illegal evictions, and the consequences for these families are tremendous—in one day they can lose their home and belongings, and as they are worrying about where they will sleep that night, they can’t also take on a legal battle with a landlord,” said LSC President Ron Flagg.
Instances of illegal eviction are difficult to quantify, as many of the affected tenants will never seek legal help or contact authorities because they are unaware of their rights or are fearful of the negative consequences of having a recorded eviction.
The brief quotes legal aid and housing professionals from across the country who spoke about the experiences of their clients as well as trends they have witnessed in illegal evictions in their communities.
Special attention is focused on the rise of illegal evictions in Washington state, the story of a woman’s illegal eviction in New Mexico and a change in New York state law that provides an example of how governments can improve tenant protections.
“Our goal is that through the work of the Housing Task Force, LSC can raise awareness of problems like illegal eviction that are too often overlooked but contribute to critical levels of housing instability and insecurity all around the United States,” said Flagg.
LSC launched the Housing Task Force in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which significantly increased demand for civil legal assistance with housing issues. 2021 was the first year that LSC grantees handled more housing cases than any other legal problem area. The Housing Task Force is documenting challenges that low-income tenants and homeowners experience and sharing its findings about housing insecurity and the role of civil legal aid in helping low-income individuals and families achieve stability and security in a four-part series of issue briefs. The forthcoming briefs will cover manufactured housing, long-term (extended stay) motel rentals and contracts for deeds.