“An alarmingly high frequency”: Legal Aid report on San Mateo evictions

By Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County

From 1/1/16 through 8/31/18, over a period of 32 months, a total of 420 tenant households in the City of San Mateo sought assistance from Legal Aid with a housing problem. Of these 420 tenant households, 294 were seeking assistance with an eviction. Demographic characteristics of these households facing eviction include:

  • 42% included at least one child under the age of 18
  • 21% had a disabled head of household
  • 18% had a head of household aged 62 or older
  • 4% included a veteran in the household

Reasons for eviction, in order of frequency included:

  • “No fault” terminations of tenancy: typically no reason was stated in the notice of termination served to the tenant, although some landlords gave reasons like sale of the home or renovation of the rental unit. Length of notice is most commonly 60 days, although tenants in occupancy for less than one year may receive only 30 days’ notice, and tenancies subsidized by a Section 8 voucher must be terminated with 90 days’ notice.
  • Non-payment of rent: failure of the tenant to pay rent due by the date required. 
  • Breach of lease and/or nuisance: failure of the tenant to comply with some obligation of the lease other than payment of rent; or actions by the tenant that violate the lease terms, disturb other residents, create a health and safety hazard or nuisance on the premises.
  • Foreclosure: involuntary transfer of ownership of the rental unit from the landlord to a lender or purchaser due to the landlord’s default.

Legal Aid 1

That “no fault” evictions comprised almost half of all evictions (48%) within this sample is consistent with the ratio observed for San Mateo County as a whole for the same time period, wherein 800 out of 1814, or 44%, of evictions reported to Legal Aid were “no fault.” However, San Mateo County’s high instance of “no fault” terminations is remarkable in the Bay Area and in the State. Typically non-payment of rent is the leading basis for termination of tenancy in other counties. For example, between 2011 and 2016, 75% of eviction notices served in Oakland were for non-payment of rent and less than 1% were “no fault” terminations (https://www.antievictionmap.com/evictions).

Legal Aid 2

Over-representation of households with children under 18 among those facing eviction issues has been climbing over the past year. In the first two quarters of FY17-18, 35.9% of the City of San Mateo households seeking eviction assistance from Legal Aid included children under 18. In the third quarter, this increased to 40%, and in the fourth quarter rose to 44%. Compared to the overall representation of households with children in the San Mateo population, which is 27.6% according to the 2010 Census, this indicates an alarmingly high frequency with which eviction activity is targeting families with kids, and a steady incremental increase in that frequency over the past year. Notably, this does not appear to be a trend that can be explained simply by families suffering disproportionately high rent burdens. Families with children are similarly represented in the sample of all evictions (42%), as in the “no fault” eviction group (41%), which indicates that property owners’ decisions to terminate the tenancies of these households at this disproportionate frequency is not driven by the tenants’ failure to pay rent.

Tenants who identified as Hispanic or Latino were also dramatically over-represented in the “no fault” eviction sample, at approximately double the percentage of representation in the population. Likewise, this apparent targeting of “no fault” evictions to Hispanic of Latino tenants has no obvious economic explanation, as such evictions are not related to the tenants’ ability to pay rent, and Hispanic-identifying tenants actually have a slightly lower representation among the “all evictions” sample that includes failure to pay rent cases.

Tenants identifying as Black or African American appear in the “no fault” and “all eviction” samples at more than double the percentage of representation in the population. Given that the Black/African American population in City of San Mateo is very small and steadily shrinking, it is not surprising that our sample size is also small. While it is hard to draw conclusions from this limited data, it is extremely likely that displacement by eviction is contributing to the steady decline in the city’s Black/African American population.

Fifty-two percent (52%) of renters in San Mateo County are “rent burdened,” meaning that they spend more than 30% of income on housing costs (http://www.gethealthysmc.org/healthy-housing-data). Our best estimate of what it would cost to eliminate this rent burden is based on the expenditures of the Housing Authority of San Mateo County, which administers voucher-based subsidies for 4,205 low-income households that are designed to bridge the gap between market rents and what the tenant can afford spending roughly 30% of household income. The Housing Authority spent in 2017 an average of $17,286 per year per household on rent subsidies, or $1,440 per month (https://housing.smcgov.org/sites/housing.smcgov.org/files/FY2018-19MTWAnnualPlanx.pdf).

(The above report was originally released September 4, 2018. The featured image for this post is from urbandisplacement.org.)

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