As pandemic moratoriums end, an eviction crisis is looming. Can tech tools help?
Jan 25, 2022

As pandemic moratoriums end, an eviction crisis is looming. Can tech tools help?

While landlords almost always have lawyers, few tenants do. Some online tools are trying to bridge that representation gap.

The last of the pandemic eviction moratoriums are winding down. New York’s ended on Jan. 15, and New Mexico’s is the only state-wide moratorium still in place.

Various forms of rental assistance and other tenant protections are still available. Nevertheless, housing advocates say landlords have filed for hundreds of thousands of evictions since March 2020. And many of those tenants can’t afford a lawyer to advise or defend them.

As Stephanie Siek reports, there are now some tech solutions to help tenants navigate the process.

Many of the eviction moratoriums put in place at the start of the pandemic are expiring. Research group Eviction Lab estimates that nearly 700,000 households are facing eviction in the six states and 31 cities where it tracks filings. And when an eviction notice arrives, it’s often the landlord who has the advantage in court.

“Nationwide, only about 3% of tenants get access to [legal] representation, but 81% of landlords do,” said John Pollock, coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel.

In the absence of that representation, there are some new tech tools available to help tenants fight eviction.

Like from New York City-based housing justice nonprofit JustFix, which builds online tools to help renters know and exercise their rights. It worked with tenant advocates and New York state courts to create a tool that helps renters file hardship declarations, which can stop or delay evictions. JustFix said about 20,000 people have used it to create declarations since early 2020. The declarations are most effective before eviction moratoriums expire.

“We create a lot of different kinds of tools, including tools that help tenants get repairs, avoid eviction or research their landlord and uncover connections between their landlord and also poor conditions in their properties,” said Stephanie Rudolph, JustFix’s deputy director.

That kind of paper trail can help tenants convince a judge that a landlord shouldn’t be collecting back rent on an apartment that’s in serious disrepair.

Legal technology firm SixFifty has also created an online tool, Hello Landlord, which helps renters write hardship declarations that fit their state’s requirements. A sister tool, Hello Lender, helps homeowners do the same.

SixFifty CEO Kimball Dean Parker said more than 20,000 people had used Hello Landlord and Hello Lender since they were introduced in spring of last year. And now that the national eviction moratorium has ended, users have been sent information about government programs that could help them pay unpaid rent. Parker said his company does not track how many users succeeded in preventing their eviction.

Pollock, from the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, says knowing how many people use these tools isn’t the same as knowing whether they prevent evictions.

“You need to have data on what actually works,” Pollock said. “And by ‘works’ we mean, what actually happened in eviction court to those tenants?”

In jurisdictions where people have a right to legal counsel in housing court, the majority of renters are able to avoid eviction, Pollock said. Developers of online tools emphasize that their services can’t replace an attorney. 

Related Links: More insight from Kimberly Adams

Stephanie first reported this story for the national urban affairs magazine, “Next City.”

The National Low Income Housing Coalition has been tracking the more than 130 local, state and national laws or policies related to tenant protections and rental assistance throughout the pandemic. The group released a report last week summarizing its work so far, and looking ahead. One of the strategies it says will help reduce evictions is the development and funding of programs ensuring tenants’ right to counsel.

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