Study: Forced eviction, homelessness more likely for unrepresented tenants in housing court

December 26, 2018 10:22 PM

Only a small fraction of tenants who enter housing court in Minneapolis without a lawyer to represent them end up with a clear eviction record, a recent nonprofit study found.

Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN), one of the sponsors of a six-month review of housing court outcomes, shared its findings with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.


Among the results of the study, which tracked more than 300 eviction cases between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2018:

  • Ninety-six percent of “fully represented” tenants won or settled their cases
  • Only 6 percent of tenants without lawyers left housing court with a clear eviction record
  • Unrepresented tenants were four to five times more likely to face forced removal by sheriff’s deputies

VLN attorneys provide free assistance through the Housing Court Project, but managers say they don’t have enough staff to meet the demand.

“What we’re seeing is a railroad of tenants in the housing court system. We’re just moving people through quickly to get the process done which doesn’t protect the rights of those people,” said VLN housing program manager and resource attorney Muria Kruger.

A day after Christmas at housing court on the third floor of the Hennepin County Government Center, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS counted more than 80 eviction cases on the court’s calendar.

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No cameras are allowed in housing court, but many of the tenants observed by investigative reporter Eric Rasmussen arrived to court without an attorney.

“I think we send people down the cycle,” said Kruger. “You get one eviction on your record, it’s hard to find a landlord to rent to you, so you rent from a bad landlord who’s going to take advantage of you and you get a second eviction on your record.”

The study by VLN and Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid also noted that “fully represented” tenants in housing court were twice as likely to stay in their homes, often by negotiating more favorable settlement agreements with landlords. The same group of tenants who had representation were four times less likely to use a homeless shelter, the study found.

Tenant Gina Robinson was not facing eviction, but took her landlord to court without the help of an attorney to try to recover deposit money after she moved out of an apartment in Bloomington in 2016.

Instead, Robinson says lawyers for her landlord accused her of damaging her unit and she says the negative information on a screening report has kept her from finding a new place to live.

“Because of what is on the screening report, my daughter and I and my grandson haven’t been able to rent from anyone,” said Robinson. “Known criminals have a right to legal representation. Why can’t we, who have housing issues, have that same right?”

Earlier this year, the City of Minneapolis launched a program to make more pro bono attorneys available to people, including those fighting their evictions in housing court.

Advocates say it’s a positive step, but more needs to be done.

“We ultimately could save so much money and time as a society if we could just help people adequately protect their right to housing,” said Kruger.

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Eric Rasmussen

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