Michigan’s Eviction Crisis
By Robert Goodspeed, Margaret Dewar, and Jim Schaafsma
Each year, landlords file nearly 200,000 eviction cases in Michigan and around 40,000 Michigan households lose their homes as a result of court-ordered evictions. A growing body of national research has documented detrimental effects of eviction on individuals, households, and neighborhoods. This evidence suggests that eviction is not merely a symptom of poverty but also a cause of it. People who experience eviction are more likely to lose their jobs, experience increased rates of depression, and rate their health as fair or poor. Households who move as a result of an eviction, instead of through choice, move to poorer, higher-crime neighborhoods, and are more likely to experience problems with their new housing like broken appliances, exposed wires, or lack of heat. Even eviction cases that do not result in evictions are harmful to tenants. These filings can result in additional costs and fees to the tenant and leave records that make it more difficult for households to find future housing. Moreover, the consequences of eviction are felt most acutely by already-disadvantaged groups, deepening social inequality. Compared to other groups, African-American women, families with children, and Hispanic households in mostly white neighborhoods experience a disproportionately high number of evictions. Victims of domestic violence also appear to face elevated rates of eviction after controlling for household and neighborhood factors, due to nuisance citations generated by incidents of domestic violence.
This brief, which accompanies a detailed full report, uses statewide case filing data and data collected from a random sample of eviction case records in Washtenaw and Lenawee counties to understand the prevalence, patterns, and causes of evictions in Michigan, and provide policy recommendations for local courts, municipalities, funders, and state government.
In Michigan, tenants face frequent threats of eviction. In 2018 more than 191,500 eviction cases were filed — the equivalent of 1 eviction case for every 6 rental units (17%). Cities and counties with the highest eviction filing rates were concentrated in southeast Michigan and Michigan’s urban areas, but 32 Michigan counties (or about 37% of counties) had eviction filing rates of over 9.5% — the equivalent of 1 eviction case for every 10 rental units.
Eviction filings in Michigan vary greatly by neighborhood. Statewide, factors that increase the likelihood of eviction at the census tract level are the number of mortgage foreclosures, the percent of the population living in mobile homes, and the percent of single-mother households.
Tenants in Michigan lack legal representation in eviction cases. Statewide, only 4.8% of tenants were represented by an attorney in eviction cases filed 2014-2018, compared to 83.2% of landlords.
Access to legal representation leads to better outcomes for tenants. In Washtenaw County, tenants with representation were more likely to receive a positive outcome for their cases with 56% of cases dismissed and 11% receiving a judgment in their favor. By comparison, among tenants who lacked representation, only 45% of cases were dismissed and no judgments were in their favor.
Given Michigan’s high eviction filing rate and the harm these filings impose on tenants, we recommend that advocates, service providers, the courts, and state government take immediate steps to tackle this problem. Our full report contains detailed policy recommendations to jump start this work, based on findings from our analysis and other social science research on evictions, best practices from other states, and feedback received during our stakeholder engagement process. Some of the most important recommendations are:
- 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 operation and emergency rental assistance;
- Remove the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services requirement that tenants receive a 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 to 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 filing records and permanently seals cases that were dismissed or decided in the tenant’s favor.