U-M: Eviction filings in Michigan fell 65% in 2020 compared to prior years

New research from the University of Michigan and Legal Services of South Central Michigan found trends within evictions and eviction filing rates between 2014 and 2018. (Pexels/Craig Adderly)

ANN ARBOR – New research from the Michigan Eviction Project at the University of Michigan reveals how much of an impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on preventing evictions.

The project, led by faculty and housing attorneys, found that the number of total eviction cases dropped by 65 percent between April and December 2020 compared to the total cases filed during the same months in 2019.

Additionally, overall cases resulting in eviction orders decreased during the pandemic, boosted by Michigan’s Eviction Diversion Program which helped significantly more tenants receive legal assistance in those cases. However, as policies and programs established during the pandemic wind down, some fear that those trends could change.

The new report titled “Reducing Michigan Evictions: The Pandemic and Beyond” details the findings after the 2020 release of the Michigan Eviction Projects extensive review of statewide evictions. The review found that the rate of eviction filing in Michigan stood at 17 percent in 2018 -- on a national scale, that’s more than twice the average filing rate, and is the equivalent of one eviction filing for every six inhabited rentals in the state of Michigan.

“The drastic decrease in evictions during the pandemic was the result of action taken by federal, state and local governments, the state court system and tenant activists,” professor emerita at U-M’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning Margaret Dewar said in a release. “Some of the emergency supports put in place are set to expire, and stakeholders should act now to permanently reduce eviction rates and the negative outcomes associated with housing instability.”

Dewar co-authored “Reducing Michigan Evictions: The Pandemic and Beyond” with staff attorney at Legal Services of South Central Michigan, Elizabeth Benton; assistant professor of urban planning at U-M’s Taubman College, Robert Goodspeed; and attorney and chair of the Housing Committee of the Michigan State Planning Body, Robert Gillett.

Poverty Solutions at U-M supported the research.

Prior to the pandemic -- in 2019 and early 2020 -- the Michigan Eviction Project found that landlords in Michigan filed 12,000 to 18,000 eviction cases each month. With eviction moratoriums in place and with the courts closed, eviction filings dropped to almost zero from mid-March through July 2020. Landlords filed 8,000 to 10,000 cases every month from August 2020 through January 2021.

Instances of cases resulting in evictions also decreased during the pandemic. From April through December 2019 the number stood at 29 percent. With eviction orders, a court officer, sheriff, bailiff, deputy sheriff or policy officer are allowed to remove the tenant and their personal belongings from the property in question.

During the same months in 2020, cases resulting in eviction orders fell to 10 percent. Eviction orders doubled in early 2021.

“The pandemic made evictions a major housing policy focus at the state and federal level,” Benton said in a release. “Prior research shows evictions are both a result and a cause of poverty, with implications for job stability, educational achievement for kids and health outcomes.”

The Michigan Eviction Project’s earlier report recommended several of the emergency interventions adopted during the pandemic to help expand statewide eviction diversion programs, change court procedures and provide emergency rental assistance funding continue to help tenants protect their rights and the chance to connect with legal services.

Under Michigan’s Eviction Diversion Program, the number of tenants who received representation and legal assistance in eviction cases increased dramatically from July to December 2020. EDP-funded legal aid staff provided assistance to tenants in 32 percent of eviction cases filed during that time. In cases where legal aid contributed wide-ranging services, a total of 97 percent of tenants were able to avoid eviction.

Before the pandemic, less than 5 percent of tenants were represented by attorneys in eviction cases from 2014 to 2018, while 83 percent of landlords were.

“The temporary Eviction Diversion Program provided valuable lessons,” Goodspeed said in a release. “The eviction data show the difference that legal representation makes in allowing people to stay in their homes. Legal services directors said they need a long-term funding commitment in order to hire the housing attorneys needed to provide legal services to all tenants facing eviction and people facing foreclosure, which can then lead to eviction.”

The researchers said the state must prepare for when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s moratorium on evictions expires on June 30.

“The state’s executive branch and the State Court Administrative Office need to proactively prepare for the end of the eviction moratorium to prevent a sudden surge in evictions,” Gillett said in a release. “They can outline a process to address pending and new evictions, and ensure tenants have adequate time to access COVID Emergency Rental Assistance funds intended to help prevent evictions.

“We need to start now to engage all the stakeholders invested in maintaining a stable rental market in Michigan.”

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.