Study: Minnesota renters didn’t report surge of ‘informal evictions’ during moratorium

By: - December 22, 2022 6:05 pm

Photo by Will Jacott/Minnesota Reformer.

Minnesota renters didn’t report a surge of ‘informal evictions’ during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study from the University of Minnesota released on Thursday.

The findings suggest landlords largely adhered to both the spirit and letter of the law while the eviction moratorium was in effect.

At the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, Gov. Tim Walz used his executive powers to halt all evictions in the state in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tenant advocates feared landlords would turn to alternative methods to force out tenants, such as sending unenforceable notices to vacate or retaliating in other ways.

Some tenants did report being unjustly evicted during the roughly year-and-a-half the moratorium was in effect, but it was unclear how common that experience was.

Researchers at the university’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs analyzed tens of thousands of calls made since 2014 to HOME Line, a nonprofit organization that provides free and low-cost legal services to renters across Minnesota.

They found that calls about formal evictions plummeted during the pandemic while calls about topics suggesting informal evictions — such as retaliation, notice to vacate, lock-out and non-renewal of lease — did not increase.

The report, authored by Ed Goetz, Yi Wang and Anthony Damiano, was funded by funded by renter advocacy groups including the Housing Justice Center and the Minnesota Housing Partnership.

The study’s findings also refute researchers’ hypotheses about racial disparities.

The researchers expected to see formal eviction calls decline more for white renters during the moratorium, and they thought calls about informal evictions would increase more for people of color.

In fact, eviction calls declined more for Black, Indigenous and other people of color than white people during the moratorium. Eviction calls also remained lower for non-white renters after the moratorium began phasing out while calls from white renters increased beyond pre-pandemic levels.

Still, HOME Line receives a disproportionate share of calls from people of color, who are more likely to be renters and low-income than white people.

After the moratorium ended, calls to HOME Line regarding evictions returned to their pre-pandemic levels while calls regarding informal eviction topics increased.

Researchers point out that even though the number of informal eviction calls were flat through the moratorium, the percentage of those types of calls actually increased because the number of other calls dropped. They hypothesize that shows some landlords may have become more comfortable with using alternative avenues to getting a tenant to move out.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.