- Policymakers need reliable data to develop effective interventions to promote housing stability, but current eviction data are often incomplete, incorrect, or difficult to compare across geographic areas.
- Developing a national eviction database will improve researchers’ ability to track and understand eviction trends and help policymakers design more effective policies to prevent eviction.
- Because many evictions occur outside of the court system, local and national surveys that capture information directly from renters about their experiences of illegal and informal forced moves will be needed to complement a
tracking system oriented toward formal evictions.
Female-headed households and households with children are at elevated risk of eviction.
In 2016, the most recent year in which national estimates are available, 3.7 million households received eviction filings, representing 8 out of every 100 renter households.1 The COVID-19 pandemic has
brought issues of longstanding financial precarity and
a national shortage of affordable housing into stark relief, with an estimated
one in seven renters overall behind on rent as of April 2021, including one in five renters living with children.2 The result is a staggering number of households at risk of eviction, a tidal wave held
only partially at bay by public health eviction moratoriums. Moreover, the toll of evictions is unevenly distributed, with female-headed households, households with children, low-income renters, and renters of color being
Eviction can have serious social and health consequences, including interrupted employment, worsened physical health, and increased rates of mental health disorders such as depression and suicide.4 The
associations between eviction and child health have been well documented, including adverse birth outcomes, increased rates of food insecurity among young children, and poor physical and mental health in adolescents and young adults.5 Eviction proceedings can become part of a tenant’s housing record, even in cases in which the tenant wins, so households experiencing eviction experience greater difficulty finding future housing.6 These consequences create a vicious circle that results in more housing instability and economic challenges.
Despite the growing policy and research interest in eviction, researchers still have an incomplete understanding of its prevalence and effects. Accurate measures of eviction prevalence at the local, state, and national levels are often
lacking. This article summarizes efforts to collect data on evictions across the United States and describes the opportunities and challenges associated with different approaches, including collating court records and using survey
measures. We conclude by summarizing current efforts to create a national eviction database and recommendations for best practices.
The formal process of evicting tenants from their home typically involves five steps:
- (1) The landlord notifies tenants of the intent to evict.
- (2) The landlord files an eviction notice with the court.
- (3) Court proceedings begin.
- (4) The court renders its judgment.
- (5) The judgment is executed (that is, the evicted tenants are forcibly removed).7
The process varies somewhat across jurisdictions. In Dallas, tenants can go from missing rental payments to an executed eviction within 2 weeks, but in Baltimore, eviction can take more than 2 months.8
Eviction is a civil proceeding, so most tenants do not have a right to legal representation. Nearly all tenants are unrepresented, whereas most landlords are represented by legal counsel, often resulting in an imbalance of power in
court proceedings.9 However, several jurisdictions, including San Francisco; New York City; and Newark, New Jersey, have extended the right to legal representation to tenants facing eviction.10
Most efforts to compile eviction estimates rely on court filings and proceedings. Court records, however, do not capture informal evictions in which tenants are forced out of their homes by threat, buyout, changed locks, or utility
shutoffs. Tenants may vacate their homes without an eviction notice ever being filed, leaving no official record of their departure. Because these data cannot be captured solely through court records, relying on court estimates alone
to determine the scope of the eviction crisis leads to underreporting. Estimates of the prevalence of informal evictions largely come from renter surveys such as the Milwaukee Area Renters Study (MARS), which estimates that informal
evictions may be twice as common as formal ones.11
To understand the scope and impact of eviction across the United States, jurisdictions must collect reliable data that accurately describe trends in their communities. Courts typically record several basic facts about each eviction
case, including the date of the eviction filing, property address, and names of the plaintiff and defendant.12 These data, when compiled at the neighborhood, county, state, or national level, are
essential for understanding where and when evictions are occurring. Policymakers and researchers can use the administrative data that the court system collects to track changes in eviction rates over time and identify areas that may
benefit from additional resources or interventions. Depending on how the data are collected, court records can be used to identify eviction hotspots as well as landlords with disproportionately high eviction rates. Like all public
health issues, evictions must be measured and described to develop targeted policy solutions.
At present, the largest national source of eviction data is the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, which has compiled and standardized eviction data through 2016 from all 50 states and Washington, D.C.13
Although these data offer the most comprehensive picture of eviction available, they have several key limitations. These data require robust data processing, including cleaning, standardizing, and aggregating, before they are released
to researchers and policymakers. In addition, eviction rates at the city or neighborhood level frequently are unavailable. Other researchers have tracked and analyzed local eviction data, for example, in Washington State and Baltimore,
Maryland.14 Finally, community-based tenant advocacy organizations have compiled detailed eviction estimates using their indepth knowledge of local eviction landscapes, including the Anti-Eviction
Mapping Project in California and New York City, City Life/Vida Urbana in Boston, and many others.15
The Eviction Lab has been tracking weekly eviction filings in 28 cities and 5 states throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.16 Other local stakeholders have also started tracking evictions within their
jurisdictions, including Oklahoma; Florida; and King County, Washington.17 These projects, although crucial for describing local and national trends, are incredibly time- and resource-intensive efforts
and have been conducted mostly by academic institutions or community nonprofits with limited budgets and competing demands.
Eviction tracking efforts are hampered by several limitations in existing court records. First, court records do not include many instances in which tenants are forced to vacate their homes, such as informal evictions that occur outside of the legal system. Although the eviction process begins with the landlord notifying the tenant of their intention to evict, often by verbal or written notice, most jurisdictions begin
tracking an eviction case only after a formal filing of a summons and complaint.18 Finally, some jurisdictions, including Oregon and Los Angeles, conduct “no-fault” evictions — those pursued for reasons
other than nonpayment of rent or lease violations — outside of the civil court system.19 These data must be merged with “at fault” eviction records to accurately understand the prevalence of evictions in
Second, existing court records often have few or none of the data needed to understand the cause, scope, and consequences of evictions. Court records typically do not include the reasons for eviction or any predisposing factors such
as rental arrears, lease violations, or informal negotiations between the landlord and the tenant. Records may list only one defendant, so the eviction’s impact on other members of the household, including children, cannot be fully
quantified. Tenant characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, household size, and immigration status are not routinely collected, which limits the ability to describe disparities relevant to the Fair Housing Act or other standards. To describe disparities in impact, researchers frequently approximate these characteristics by
assigning a sex to a defendant’s name or assigning defendants a race based on the demographics of their neighborhoods.20
The eviction process varies across jurisdictions, but it typically involves five steps: landlord notice, court filing, court proceedings, court judgment, and execution of judgment.
Third, administrative court records can have missing or incorrect data that may bias estimates. An analysis of eviction court records in 12 states revealed that between 7 and 47 percent of records were incomplete or inaccurate.21 These incomplete records include ambiguous cases in which the outcome is unresolved or not listed. For example, nearly 17 percent of cases in North Dakota do not specify whether the tenant was ultimately evicted. This ambiguity can have consequences for tenants; if the outcome of the case is absent or does not confirm that the tenant won, tenants may be barred from future housing based on an eviction record that implies that they were successfully evicted. Inaccurate records can also involve true duplicates because of court error or serial filings — purposeful repeated filings by landlords on one household as
a means to collect rent.22 The high proportion of serial filings identified in some municipalities — as high as 43 percent of all cases in South Carolina, for example — has important implications for
using court data to understand the extent of evictions. Although the Eviction Lab tends to produce conservative estimates of the number of households that have been impacted by removing duplicates and serial filings, researchers may
not always clearly express how they have handled duplicates in their data.23 These differing patterns limit the ability to accurately compare eviction rates among studies.
Fourth, even if data collection is accurate and complete, much eviction data nationwide is inaccessible. Approximately one in three counties in the United States do not have publicly available eviction data, including many counties with large renter populations.24 In some cases, these data are sealed to
protect tenants. In other instances, a portion of these data are compiled and standardized by private companies such as American Information Research Services, Inc. These compiled estimates, however, are prohibitively expensive;
although background check companies and credit score companies have the purchasing power to access eviction records and resell the information to landlords, researchers, policymakers, and tenants themselves often are unable to access
Finally, although some jurisdictions may compile and release their data weekly, others release their data quarterly or annually, so real-time estimates are unavailable. Current weekly or monthly estimates from sources such as the
Eviction Tracking Project have been calculated in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may not be comparable with prepandemic trends. Despite their comprehensive nature, the Eviction Lab’s most recent national-level data are from 2016.
Data harmonization across jurisdictions is essential to understand state and national trends in evictions. However, data reporting requirements and definitions of terms vary significantly across jurisdictions, so merging data may
cause a loss of detail from individual court records.
Efforts to understand state and national trends in evictions must consider the context of the significant variation in local eviction landscapes. Focusing on national trends can mask significant variation across jurisdictions that may
be the result of differences in state and local policies. For example, Baltimore landlords are required to file an eviction case as soon as a tenant’s rent is late, whereas the high fees for filing an eviction in Los Angeles discourage
landlords from opening cases until it is deemed necessary.25 Each state has its own set of pro-tenant and pro-landlord policies, so protections available to renters in one jurisdiction may be absent
elsewhere.26 Cities and counties may also enact different policies. Compiling a database of landlord/tenant policies across jurisdictions that can be paired with eviction records would be an important
step toward understanding the underlying reasons for the observed variation in outcomes.27
Because of the limitations of court records, surveys are important tool to estimate the prevalence of forced housing loss. Critically, surveys can be used to assess participants’ experiences with both formal and informal evictions. In
addition, these items can be linked with a number of other survey responses, including, for example, the health and well-being of household members.
However, a unique set of challenges limit the generalizability of such surveys. Households that are more likely to be impacted by eviction — namely, those experiencing homelessness and poverty — are precisely those that are less
accessible through traditional survey methods.28 Comparing different surveys may be impossible if the survey questions cover different time frames or include eviction among other reasons for involuntary
moves, such as foreclosure or condemnation. Note that many households that have been forcibly removed by their landlords do not perceive it as such.29 Households may attribute their departure from the home to
conflicts with landlords, poor conditions, or trouble paying rent rather than the eviction process itself.30 Thus, without careful investigation of the reasons for an involuntary move and consideration
of the sampling time frame, surveys may underestimate the true prevalence of eviction.
Several surveys focused on specific metropolitan areas, such as MARS and the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey, and longitudinal cohort studies of special populations, such as the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to
Adult Health and the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, include items that assess eviction history. These items have been studied in the context of health and well-being, enabling researchers to better assess the causes and consequences of eviction.31
Eviction questions increasingly are being included on nationally representative surveys. The American Housing Survey introduced a new topical module in 2017 modeled after the MARS “mover module,” which asks respondents about recent
evictions, the reasons for the evictions, and concerns about future evictions.32 The Panel Study on Income Dynamics (PSID) asks respondents about their reasons for moving, including involuntary moves due
to eviction, divorce, and foreclosure.33 In the 2021 PSID, eviction was disaggregated from other involuntary moves, which allows for more specific tracking of eviction prevalence.34 Different waves of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey have included questions about housing insecurity, concerns
about paying rent, and evictions, and these have provided invaluable real-time estimates of housing insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic.35
In addition to estimating eviction prevalence and trends over time, researchers must learn what individual, household, and contextual factors predispose households to eviction; what the subsequent housing and neighborhood trajectories
are for households that experience eviction; and how the experience of eviction impacts numerous other measures such as household economic well-being, children’s education, and health status. Limited information exists on what happens to families after they receive an eviction judgment.
Because tenants exit the formal court system after a judgment is rendered, courts do not record whether the tenant has found a new rental, will stay with family or friends, or will enter the shelter system. A survey of evicted families in Milwaukee’s rent court found that approximately one in seven reported that they had found a new rental, but more than half simply did not know where they were going to stay after the eviction.36
As discussed above, much of the evidence surrounding the risk factors and consequences of eviction at the individual level comes from longitudinal surveys. More robust analyses, however, would link administrative records to overcome
reporting biases inherent in surveys. Eviction data are often challenging to link with other databases such as criminal records, homelessness trackers, and social services data because of the relative lack of unique identifiers in
eviction data. Researchers can also link eviction data with HUD data to understand the extent to which renters with federal housing assistance are evicted and, conversely, whether evictions led tenants to apply for and receive housing assistance. Several studies have used public assistance data to obtain identifying information such as
birthdates or Social Security numbers to link eviction datasets to the outcome dataset of interest.37 These efforts, however, can link only the portion of eviction cases involving defendants who also
appear on the public assistance rolls and therefore do not reflect the full sample of evicted tenants.
In the context of the data collection challenges described above, a consortium of housing advocates and researchers, including New America, Eviction Lab, and the National Low Income Housing Coalition, have developed a model for an
ideal eviction tracking database as well as recommendations for building such a database.38 Eviction data collection in each jurisdiction must be complete and reliable, including, among other key
variables, the address of the property and the outcome of the case. Variables should be standardized to allow for aggregation at the state and national level. Neighborhood-level summaries should be timely and easily available.
Protection of tenant privacy is essential; tenants, landlords, researchers, and policymakers should have differing levels of access to eviction data to balance individual privacy needs with the need for a detailed analysis of
disparate outcomes for individuals within protected classes under the Fair Housing Act.
To build this national database, policymakers
at the federal, state, and local
levels must collaborate. Federal agencies
such as HUD can define data collection standards and provide technical assistance,
funding, and incentives to local
agencies. Local stakeholders can develop
strategies to construct jurisdiction-level
databases that balance local data collection
priorities with federal standards.
Princeton University’s Eviction Lab tracks available eviction data throughout the country, but some reporting gaps persist. Courtesy of The Eviction Lab at Princeton University
To complement the development of
the national eviction tracking system
described by this consortium, a comprehensive
understanding of America’s
eviction problem must include estimates
of illegal or informal forced
moves. Because many, if not most,
evictions occur outside the court system,
local and national surveys can fill this
information gap, especially when using
carefully worded survey instruments to
understand the nature of the eviction.
These data should be collected and disseminated with the ability to examine
local trends and detect eviction
hotspots within jurisdictions. Finally,
researchers should explore creative
strategies for tracking informal evictions,
such as consulting with local
tenant support hotlines, collaborating
with legal aid organizations and social
service agencies, or requiring landlords
to notify the city of their intention to
evict a tenant.
Legislative efforts to support a national
system include the Eviction Crisis Act
of 2019, introduced by Senator Michael
Bennet of Colorado.39 This act would
take several steps to address eviction,
including establishing a national
eviction tracking system. The Eviction
Crisis Act would also authorize funding
to study landlord-tenant laws and other
local factors associated with evictions
and would prohibit eviction cases that
were ruled in favor of the tenant from
appearing on tenant screening reports.
Similar House legislation has been
proposed, including the Housing Emergencies
Lifeline Program Act of 2020
introduced by Representative Ayanna
Pressley of Massachusetts and the We
Need Eviction Data Now Act of 2020
introduced by Representative Rosa
DeLauro of Connecticut.40
In addition, HUD has been tasked with studying the feasibility of creating a national eviction database. This report, requested by Congress in the fiscal year 2021 appropriations bill, will be submitted to the Committee on
Appropriations in each chamber by fall 2021.41
Finally, the development of a housing
security module for national surveys
is underway.42 This survey instrument,
like the 18-item U.S. Department of
Agriculture food security module,
would capture standardized responses
that could be compared across contexts
and timespans. This module would
include items related to housing
affordability, stability, and quality. The
optimal module would also include
items that accurately measure instability due to forced moves, such as formal or
informal eviction. This module was first
piloted in the 2019 American Housing
Survey, with plans to develop a composite
housing insecurity scale.
Evictions are, sadly, catastrophic and commonplace. Public and academic interest in the harmful effects of eviction continues to increase, and the economic upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the precarity of stable
housing for millions of American families. Policymakers must equip themselves with reliable data to develop universal and targeted interventions to support housing stability. At present, eviction data are often incomplete, incorrect,
or difficult to compare across geographic areas. Building a national eviction database that aggregates standardized and reliable local data will significantly improve researchers’ ability to understand trends in eviction rates across
time and space. Including information on tenants and landlords involved in eviction cases will elucidate disparities in evictions. Through local and national collaboration, policymakers can build comprehensive infrastructure and
strategies to effectively combat America’s eviction epidemic.
— Dana Goplerud, Johns Hopkins University
— Craig Pollack, Johns Hopkins University
Matthew Desmond. 2020. "On the Brink of Homelessness: How the Affordable Housing Crisis and the Gentrification of America Is Leaving Families Vulnerable," statement before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services, 3.
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. 2021. "Tracking the COVID-19 Recession's Effects on Food, Housing, and Employment Hardships," Special Series: COVID Hardship Watch.
- Matthew Desmond and Tracey Shollenberger. 2015. "Forced Displacement From Rental Housing: Prevalence and Neighborhood Consequences," Demography 52:5, 1751–72; Matthew Desmond, Weihua An, Richelle Winkler, and Thomas Ferriss. 2013. "Evicting Children," Social Forces 92:1, 303–27; Peter Hepburn, Renee Louis, and Matthew Desmond. 2020. "Racial and Gender Disparities among Evicted Americans," Sociological Science 7, 649–62; Deena Greenberg, Carl Gershenson, and Matthew Desmond. 2016. "Discrimination in Evictions: Empirical Evidence and Legal Challenges," Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 51:1, 115–58.
- Matthew Desmond and Carl Gershenson. 2016. "Housing and Employment Insecurity among the Working Poor," Social Problems 63:1, 46–67; Hugo Vásquez-Vera, Laia Palència, Ingrid Magna, Carlos Mena, Jaime Neira, and Carme Borrell. 2017. "The threat of home eviction and its effects on health through the equity lens: A systematic review," Social Science and Medicine 175, 199–208; Matthew Desmond and Rachel Tolbert Kimbro. 2015. "Eviction's Fallout: Housing, Hardship, and Health," Social Forces 94:1, 295–324; Yerko Rojas and Sten-Åke Stenberg. 2016. "Evictions and suicide: A follow-up study of almost 22 000 Swedish households in the wake of the global financial crisis," Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 70:4, 409–13.
- Gracie Himmelstein and Matthew Desmond. 2021. "Association of Eviction With Adverse Birth Outcomes Among Women in Georgia, 2000 to 2016," JAMA Pediatrics 175:5, 494–500; Aayush Khadka, Günther Fink, Ashley Gromis, and Margaret McConnell. 2020. "In utero exposure to threat of evictions and preterm birth: Evidence from the United States," Health Services Research 55, 823–32; Kathryn M. Leifheit, Gabriel L. Schwartz, Craig E. Pollack, Kathryn J. Edin, Maureen M. Black, Jacky M. Jennings, and Keri N. Althoff. 2020. "Severe Housing Insecurity During Pregnancy: Association With Adverse Birth and Infant Outcomes," International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 17:22, 1–12; Morgan K. Hoke and Courtney E. Boen. 2021. "The Health Impacts of Eviction: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health," Social Science & Medicine 273; Megan E. Hatch and Jinhee Yun. 2020. "Losing Your Home Is Bad for Your Health: Short- and Medium-Term Health Effects of Eviction on Young Adults," Housing Policy Debate.
- Kristin Ginger. 2018. "Eviction Filings Hurt Tenants, Even If They Win," Shelterforce.
- Kyle Nelson, Phillip Garboden, Brian J. McCabe, and Eva Rosen. 2021. "Evictions: The Comparative Analysis Problem," Housing Policy Debate.
- Ericka Petersen. 2020. "Building a House for Gideon: The Right to Counsel in Evictions," Stanford Journal of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties 16:1.
- Desmond and Shollenberger.
- Matthew Desmond, Ashley Gromis, Lavar Edmonds, James Hendrickson, Katie Krywokulski, Lillian Leung, and Adam Porton. 2018. "Eviction Lab Methodology Report: Version 1.0," Princeton: Princeton University.
- The Eviction Lab. "Eviction Lab" (evictionlab.org). Accessed 22 May 2021.
- "The Evictions Study," The Evictions Study website (evictions.study). Accessed 22 May 2021.
- Daniela Aiello, Lisa Bates, Terra Graziani, Christopher Herring, Manissa Maharawal, Erin McElroy, Pamela Phan, and Gretchen Purser. 2018. "Eviction Lab Misses the Mark," Shelterforce.
- The Eviction Lab. "The Eviction Tracking System" (evictionlab.org/eviction-tracking/). Accessed 20 March 2021.
- Open Justice Oklahoma. "Oklahoma Court Tracker" (openjustice.okpolicy.org/blog/oklahoma-court-tracker/). Accessed 22 May 2021; Florida Housing Data Clearinghouse. "Geographic Areas: COVID-19: Workforce & Housing Indicators" (flhousingdata.shimberg.ufl.edu/covid-19). Accessed 1 June 2021; King County Bar Association Housing Justice Project. "HJP-Heat Map" (www.kcba.org/For-the-Public/Free-Legal-Assistance/Housing-Justice-Project/HJP-Heat-Map). Accessed 22 May 2021.
- Nelson et al.
- Ibid.; Aiello et al.
- Hepburn et al.; Matthew Desmond. 2012. "Eviction and The Reproduction of Urban Poverty," American Journal of Sociology 118:1, 88–133.
- Adam A. Porton, Ashley A. Gromis, and Matthew Desmond. 2020. "Inaccuracies in Eviction Records: Implications for Renters and Researchers," Housing Policy Debate.
- Brian J. McCabe and Eva Rosen. 2020. "Eviction in Washington, DC: Racial and Geographic Disparities in Housing Instability."
- Desmond et al. 2018.
- Tim Robustelli, Yuliya Panfil, Katie Oran, Chenab Navalkha, and Emily Yelverton. 2020. "Displaced in America," New America.
- Nelson et al.
- Megan E. Hatch. 2017. "Statutory Protection for Renters: Classification of State Landlord–Tenant Policy Approaches," Housing Policy Debate 27:1, 98–119.
- Katie Moran-McCabe, Joshua Waimberg, and Adrienne Ghorashi. 2020. "Mapping Housing Laws in the United States: A Resource for Evaluating Housing Policies' Impacts on Health," Journal of Public Health Management and Practice 26:2, S29-S36.
- Porton et al.
- Desmond 2012.
- Desmond and Shollenberger.
- Leifheit et al.; Hoke et al.; Desmond and Shollen-berger.
- Shawn Bucholtz. 2018. "Introducing the 2017 American Housing Survey," PD&R Edge.
- Katherine McGonagle and Narayan Sastry. 2016. "Using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics To Analyze Housing Decisions, Dynamics, and Effects," Cityscape 18:1, 185–99.
- "Documents- Questionnaires & supporting documentation," University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, Panel Study of Income Dynamics website (psidonline.isr.umich.edu/Guide/documents.aspx). Accessed 1 June 2021.
- U.S. Census Bureau. 2021. "Measuring Household Experiences during the Coronavirus Pandemic," Household Pulse Survey Phase 3.1. Accessed 22 May, 2021.
- Desmond 2012.
- Robert Collinson and Davin Reed. 2018. "The Effects of Evictions on Low-Income Households"; Francisca García-Cobián Richter, Claudia Coulton, April Urban, and Stephen Steh. 2021. "An Integrated Data System Lens Into Evictions and Their Effects," Housing Policy Debate.
- Yuliya Panfil, Sabiha Zainulbhai, and Tim Robustelli. 2021. "Why Is Eviction Data so Bad?" New America.
- United States 116th Congress. 2019. S. 3030- Eviction Crisis Act of 2019.
- United States 116th Congress. 2020. H.R. 7847- HELP Act of 2020; United States 116th Congress. 2020. H.R.7743- We Need Eviction Data Now Act of 2020.
- United States Senate Committee on Appropriations. 2020. "Congress Reaches Deal, Files FY21 Omnibus to Fund Govt, Provide COVID Relief," News, 21 December. Accessed 23 May 2021.
- Nicole E. Watson and George R. Carter. 2020. "Toward Implementation of a National Housing Insecurity Research Module," Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research 22:1, 227–48.
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