Unfair Eviction Screening Policies Are Disproportionately Blacklisting Black Women

Five years ago, Nikita Smith’s landlord filed an eviction case against her. They worked it out, and Ms. Smith was never evicted. Little did she know that years later, the eviction filing would continue to haunt her. When she applied for another apartment in Renton, Washington, just outside Seattle, the property’s management company shut her out from the chance to move into a new home.

Across the country, landlords routinely use screening policies that deny housing whenever an applicant was named in an eviction case — even when a court never ordered the eviction. These unfair policies punish families based on a prior landlord’s decision to file a case, ignoring the reasons for filing, the outcome of the case, or the family’s circumstances. Applicants are often asked whether they were ever involved in an eviction case, and tenant screening companies provide court data to landlords, creating tenant blacklists. Even if the eviction case was dismissed, filed many years ago, or based on unlawful reasons, people’s housing options disappear.

For example, A.R.’s landlord tried to kick her out when her ex-boyfriend came to her home, threatened her, and threw a rock through her window. Because evictions based on domestic violence are illegal, she got the case thrown out. But seven years later, she still can’t get housing because of the black mark on her record.

If we want the American Dream to be more than just that — a dream — then we need to reform the way eviction screenings are done in this country.

These policies give landlords a powerful weapon. Landlords can threaten eviction when tenants protest the failure to make repairs or for reasons that violate the law. When the mere filing of an eviction case means that a family’s future housing applications will be rejected, many tenants will avoid a case at all costs. They will move out, tolerate unsafe living conditions, or decline to exercise their rights, allowing landlords to act with impunity.

While these unjust screening policies affect all tenants, Black women are most likely to be blacklisted. In King County, Washington, where Ms. Smith lives, our research shows that African-American tenants are nearly four times more likely to have an eviction case filed against them compared to white tenants. The disparity is even starker for African-American women: They are more than five times as likely to have a filing against them compared to households headed by white men.

Women of color bear the burden of eviction in other communities as well. In Milwaukee, women renters from Black neighborhoods faced eviction more than 1.8 times as often as male renters from the same neighborhoods and more than five times as often as women renters from white neighborhoods. Other studies demonstrated that people of color made up about 80 percent of those facing eviction in several cities, and women were 62 percent of the tenants facing eviction in Chicago and 70 percent of the tenants in Philadelphia.

While mass incarceration continues to remove African-American men from their communities, eviction screenings prevent African-American women from entering many neighborhoods, reproducing economic and social inequality for communities of color. As Harvard professor Matthew Desmond has observed, “Poor black men are locked up while poor black women are locked out.”

Today, the ACLU, ACLU of Washington, Northwest Justice Project, and Virginia Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Smith. The complaint alleges that the management company violated the Fair Housing Act when it refused to consider her application because its blanket screening policy disproportionately harms African-Americans, particularly African-American women. As far as we know, it is the first case challenging an eviction screening policy under civil rights law. It is also the first under the Fair Housing Act that focuses on intersectional race and sex housing discrimination, highlighting how African-American women are especially impacted by the use of these blanket screening policies.

It’s understandable that landlords want to screen applicants for past problems in their tenancies. But rather than flatly rejecting everyone who ever had a case filed against them, landlords should give applicants the chance to explain their individual circumstances and why they would be good tenants.

Almost three million people are estimated to face eviction annually. With these screening policies in place, millions more are shut out of housing possibilities for years to come. Eviction screening policies not only bar people from new housing, but also seriously constrain their access to better jobs, schools, healthcare, and transportation, all of which are tied to one’s home.

Ending unfair eviction screenings would open the doors of opportunity for families to many communities that are currently closed to them. If we want the American Dream to be more than just that — a dream — then we need to reform the way eviction screenings are done in this country.

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Anonymous

Call your state representatives again, and again, and again. Tell your friends and family to do the same. Oppressive laws need to be changed through the legislative process.

M Talbot

Sandra,

Very well done. You are an inspiration to all of us who care enough to keep fighting for those who can't fight for themselves.

Anonymous

You can help as well...buy rental property and let them move in...good luck!

Anonymous

I admit I'm not well-versed on rentals because I've never rented a home or apartment.

I read the Yale paper and it appears landlords are getting this info from electronic rental history databases and NOT credit reports where information (debt owed to leasing office or judgement) would be listed for 7 years.

So, is it policy to never, ever rent to anyone who had an eviction ever? No matter how long ago it was? Why are the rental histories (the debt) not "erased" after 7 years like credit reports? That seems a bit excessive especially considering the economic downturn in 2008 left a lot of people evicted or foreclosed on. It seems strange that you could rent (and get another mortgage) after a foreclosure, but you won't be able to rent again (ever because the rental history info is never "deleted"?) after an eviction AND the eviction is an automatic no with no ability to appeal.

Anonymous - 2

This is exactly what upsets me. You are correct that it is coming from the court electronic databases and not credit reports. I think it is wrong and should be time restricted just like credit reporting. In my case, I was in a not so good marriage in the late 1980s and early 1990's we were evicted from our rental home in 1991. I finally escaped this "person" with my children and moved to another state. I am almost 60 and my last two rentals have been (raised my children in my parents home when they were young) 7 and 8 yrs each never a day late or a penny short but because of that eviction, I just applied to a 55+ community that I would really enjoy renting an apartment but I can't pass the check because of that history of eviction in 1991 my credit is excellent, no criminal history and I am college degreed and I even volunteer with the city. How unfair is this? 28 years later really?

carol jacobson

i am scheduled for eviction court tuesday April 4,2017 in retaliation against me for seeking legal resources and because i filed a fairhousing report. i have resided at my apt. for 7 yrs. i am a physically disabled vulnerable adult. with relapsive/progressive multiple sclerosis and permanent paralysis damage from a severe stroke 4 yrs ago. i asked for a transfer to a 1st floor ada accessible apt. and i was denied because i am a single renter and have public rental assistance. so i was denied lease renewal in discrimination of my disability. manager claimed i couldnt transfer because of housing assistance restrictions yet it was proven and verified that there was no such restrictions with hra section 8 vouchers. there has been a total of 14 1st floor opennings durring the 4 yrs after i started using a wheelchair and homecare services yet im told theres no available first floor apts. however,witnessed zeveral times that a resident that pays full rent was allowed to tranfer no problem. and us residents that are single,low income,disabled or of minority are constantly verbally abused by manager with remarks about. tax payers pay for us to get freebies, and remarks like single people dont need homes these apts are for families .those who dont work cant be fussy for the handouts given free .etc. i am now in extreme jeopardy of homelessness simply for no reasons other than the manager doesnt like me.

Leigh

Replying just to say I hold you in my heart and wish you well. I left a comment here that I was subject to similar treatment in NYC and was appalled at the lack of supportive resources for disabled. Best of luck.

Anonymous

This is what I'm talking about see this country only cares about foreigners you can come here with nothing no soc sec card no state id no birth cert. and still get a apartment this is the american dream for real .

Anonymous

The high cost of housing is another big problem. Over the past few decades, basic living expenses have risen faster than wages have risen - one of the factors that also contributed to the Great Depression - workers and consumers had fewer dollars to spend.

Ronald Reagan's economic advisor, David Stockman, a few years ago concluded that the "Trickle Down" theory doesn't work as advertised by some Conservatives and the theory doesn't work without other policies. Essentially consumers drive the economy and Trickle Down doesn't work without Americans that can afford the rent, college education, healthcare and food with money left over to spend on products and services.

Every time a consumer spends a dollar, that dollar creates more jobs and creates tax revenue for government treasuries. That dollar is taxed during payroll, taxed with sales taxes and then taxed again as income - just circulating that dollar creates jobs and government revenue.

It's curious that those always pushing for taxcuts, which reduces revenue to government treasuries, are opposed to "payroll taxcuts" for the working class and working poor. Lower income Americans spend almost all extra cash, that they have left at the end of each month, on products and services. Rich people don't boost the economy as much when they receive taxcuts.

If a poor person, including the working poor, can't afford the rent because expenses inflated faster than wages - that consumer has no extra money left over at the end if the month to boost the economy.

TJ

Really? Here in Ma. Tenants have all the rights. I'm a small good property manager/owner. I have had my apartments destroyed many times by so called good tenants. I've had the board of health called on me when I've tried to raise the rent to keep up with expenses. Only to be told I can't raise rent or ask them to leave for 6 months as it is concidered retaliation.
Now I check housing court records as part of my pre screening.. All free public information... Anyone's​ name pops up or anyone in house hold names pops up.. It's a no way tenant!!!! I'm still owed 20k over the past 12 years in different housing court uncollectible awarded claims. You think being a landlord is fun or easy you do it. I bought my 1st 2 family when I was 21 lived In a few years then bought a 3 family and lived in that. In today's market I'm a seller.
My advise is pay your rent on time take care of your rented home and your landlord will be fair and take care of you. Save and buy your own mutli family home as your 1st house.

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