PDF: Rental Insecurity
Many Americans who live in a rental property often struggle to get from one month to the next. While that fact is well-known to most people, it might surprise you to find just how many people are unable to pay their rent on a regular basis. According to a recent study released recently by Apartmentlist.com, about one in five rental households reported they were unable to pay their monthly rent at least once in the past three months.
The study hints at what appears to be an alarming trend, even in the face of an improving economy. Missing rent payments often leads to financial penalties and eviction, which in turn can lead to homelessness and a variety of other social problems. In the study, Apartment List surveyed 41,000 renters, asking whether they’d missed a payment in the past year, whether they’d been threatened with eviction and whether they’d had a previous eviction.
While there are few reliable statistics about evictions (the study cited a “serious lack of comprehensive nationwide data on evictions”), it’s a very real issue for millions across the nation. About 3.3 percent of renters responding to the survey reported they’d been evicted in the past, and about 2.4 percent reported they were evicted from their most recent residence. While those numbers may seem small, the study’s authors concluded that — if the same percentage were applied to the general population of U.S. renters — it would mean about 3.7 million people had been evicted at least once. “If we assume that some share respondents fail to report informal evictions, this estimate is most likely understated,” the organization noted in its report.
The study seems to point out that rental insecurity has an uneven impact on American communities. Renters without a college education, for example, are more than twice as likely to face eviction as those with a degree. African-American households fared the worst among all demographic groups, while renters with lower incomes and single people with children more frequently reported inability to pay their rent. And there were geographic disparities, as well, with people in the South and Midwest facing greater rental uncertainty (Memphis renters reporting the highest eviction rates in the nation.)
As for the causes, there are many. Renting households often live paycheck to paycheck and have little or no savings. There are also economic causes; economists point out that as household wages have grown slowly or even stagnated in many parts of the country, rental rates have risen (often dramatically). For example, in Washington, D.C., household incomes rose about a third from 1980 to 2014, but rents jumped 86 percent in the same period. And in some cities, such as Houston, actual wages dropped during the same 34-year period, while average rents continued to climb.
“Evictions disrupt families and communities, imposing further harm on what are often the most vulnerable members of our population,” noted Apartment List’s Chris Salviati in the report. “Even when they do not face eviction, members of households that struggle to pay rent live with the fear of housing insecurity, which often means sacrificing other basic needs, such as food and transportation.”
To better understand how the law applies to landlord-tenant issues, visit the Mississippi Center for Legal Services’ website at http://www.mslegalservices.org/issues/housing/landlord-and-tenant-issues.