Eviction case filed for 1 in 6 rental units in Michigan, U-M study finds

May 20, 2020

Contact: Lauren Slagter, lslag@umich.edu, 734-929-8027

ANN ARBOR—New research from the University of Michigan and Legal Services of South Central Michigan found Michigan’s eviction filing rate was 17% in 2018  — or the equivalent of 1 eviction case for every 6 occupied rental housing units in the state.

The Michigan Eviction Project found eviction filing rates vary widely by county, from 1.4% in Keweenaw County to 25.7% in Genesee County in 2018. Five of the 10 counties with the highest eviction filing rates are in southeast Michigan. 

An eviction filing is a legal complaint filed by a landlord to begin an eviction case, and the exact number of court-ordered, physical evictions is not contained in statewide data. 

Other key findings from the study include: 

  • The number of eviction filings in Michigan has been declining since 2011, but Michigan’s 17% eviction filing rate is still higher than rates in Chicago (3.9%), Philadelphia (7-7.8%) and Hamilton County, Ohio (8.7%) as documented by other studies. In 2018, Michigan landlords filed a total of 191,512 eviction cases. 
  • Only 4.8% of tenants statewide were represented by an attorney in eviction cases filed in 2014-18, compared to 83.2% of landlords.
  • Census tracts with high numbers of single-mother households, mortgage foreclosures, and people living in mobile homes tend to have higher eviction case filing rates.
  • In urban areas, the number of African Americans and children living in an area, as well as higher vacancy rates, also correlate with higher rates of eviction filings. 

“Our research shows that even before the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn, Michigan had extremely high eviction filing rates and very few tenants had access to an attorney,” said Robert Goodspeed, an assistant professor of urban and regional planning at U-M and the principal investigator of the Michigan Eviction Project, which was conducted in collaboration with attorney Elizabeth Benton from Legal Services of South Central Michigan. 

“As low-income workers lose their jobs and fall behind on rent, we anticipate an increase in eviction case filings statewide, which will stress the resources of already burdened courts and legal and social services agencies and impose great hardship on tenants,” Goodspeed said.

Prior research suggests eviction is not only a symptom of poverty, but also a cause of it. People who are evicted from their homes are more likely to lose their jobs, experience increased rates of depression, and rate their health as fair or poor. After an eviction, families tend to move to poorer, higher-crime neighborhoods and are more likely to have problems like broken appliances or lack of heat in their new housing. 

The Michigan Eviction Project highlights several recommendations to reduce evictions, including:

  • Establish and fund a guaranteed right to counsel for tenants in eviction cases statewide;
  • Establish and fund eviction diversion programs in every district court;
  • Increase funding for affordable housing and emergency rental assistance;  
  • Remove the requirement that tenants receive an eviction summons and complaint before becoming eligible for state emergency relief to help with back rent;
  • Enact legislation to prevent landlords from charging late fees until the rent is 30 days late, or during the COVID-19 emergency, and limit the amount of late fees;
  • Enact legislation to eliminate courts’ ability to award parties in eviction cases $75-$150 in “taxable costs” on top of their actual costs in the case; and
  • Enact legislation that limits access to eviction records and permanently seals cases that were dismissed or decided in the tenant’s favor. 

“Implementing the recommendations the Michigan Eviction Project makes would reduce both the number of evictions and the incidence of homelessness here. The COVID-19 pandemic only heightens the need and urgency for making these proposed changes,” said Jim Schaafsma, housing law attorney at the Michigan Poverty Law Program, who contributed to the report. 

Benton and LSSCM did not participate in the recommendations mentioned here. As a staff member of a Legal Services Corporation grantee, Benton is prohibited from making explicit policy recommendations, so neither Benton nor LSSCM endorses or opposes any of the recommendations contained in the report. Margaret Dewar, an emerita professor of urban planning at U-M’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and Kyle Slugg, a 2020 graduate from UM’s Ford School of Public Policy, joined Goodspeed in leading the Michigan Eviction Project, which was supported by Poverty Solutions and the Detroit Community-Academic Research Center at U-M. 

Here are the 10 counties with the highest average annual eviction filing rates in 2014-18:

1. Genesee County – 27%
2. Macomb County – 24.4%
3. Wayne County – 23.5%
4. Monroe County – 22.6%
5. Calhoun County – 21.6%
5. Muskegon County – 21.6%
7. Oakland County – 19%
8. Clinton County – 18.3%
9. Jackson County – 18.1%
10. Ingham County – 16.4%

Here are the 10 cities with populations of 20,000 or more with the highest average annual eviction filing rates in 2014-18:

  1. Romulus – 47%
  2. Inkster – 39.8%
  3. Taylor – 37%
  4. Southfield – 32.8%
  5. Pontiac – 31.2%
  6. Westland – 30.2%
  7. Burton – 26.9%
  8. Oak Park – 26.8%
  9. Flint – 25.9%
  10. Battle Creek – 24.9%

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