Eviction Lab updatesApril 20, 2020

COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard Methodology

  • The Eviction Lab
  • Princeton University

Introduction

To prevent the deleterious health consequences of eviction and an escalating economic crisis during the COVID-19 outbreak, U.S. states are beginning to pursue strategies to ensure safe, decent, and stable housing during and after the pandemic. To evaluate state responses, the Eviction Lab and Columbia Law School’s Professor Emily Benfer have developed a policy scorecard for each state, distilling the contents of thousands of newly-released emergency orders, declarations, and legislation into a clear set of critical measures included in, and left out of, state-level pandemic responses related to eviction and housing. As states grapple with how to protect citizens during and in the recovery from the pandemic, this scorecard provides comprehensive information about the varying approaches state-by-state. These short- and long-term supportive measures are not exhaustive.

Scorecard Methodology

The state scorecard documents the following categories and measures, which may be controlled by courts, governors, or legislatures (“state”):

  • Initiation of eviction: whether a state bars landlords from serving tenants with notice to quit and filing an eviction action for nonpayment related to COVID-19 and other reasons.

  • Court process: whether a state suspends eviction hearings, stays writs, orders, or judgments of possession, tolls or extends court deadlines, and seals eviction case records.

  • Enforcement of eviction order: whether a state bars law enforcement from executing an eviction order, including cases of COVID-19-related hardship, nonpayment, or all non-emergency cases.

  • Short-term supports: whether a state extends eviction moratoriums and emergency protections past the state of emergency, provides a grace period to pay rent, bars landlords from reporting tenants to credit bureaus, and halts foreclosures. In addition, the scorecard tracks whether utilities are barred from disconnecting service or are required to reconnect service without a fee, though these measures are not included in states’ final scores because the state is not always the actor.

  • Tenancy preservation measures: whether a state bars late fees, extends tenants’ legal representation in housing court, provides for safe and decent housing (through rental assistance or some other measure to provide relief from rental debt), and bars rent raises during and after the pandemic.

To compile the state level research, we collect and analyze state governor emergency declarations, state legislation, and court orders on a daily basis. We also review court and attorney general memorandums and guidance. Where possible, we consult with local attorneys to determine how the orders have been interpreted in the state. States’ ratings may rise or fall as existing protections expire or states adopt new protective measures.

We consulted with housing and homelessness lawyers and advocates, tenant groups, and public health experts around the country to develop the scorecard. We assigned weights based on each category’s role in preventing evictions today and securing safe, stable, and decent housing for tenants after the COVID-19 outbreak has passed. The two categories with the heaviest weights are “Initiation” (at 40%)—the first steps that a landlord takes to begin the eviction process—and “Tenancy Preservation Measures” (at 20%), which includes a variety of measures that states can implement to support families during and following the COVID-19 crisis.

The scorecard also includes figures for the number of renters in each state who could be affected by the housing crisis, and links to other COVID-19 housing resources.

Measures

The COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard addresses five stages of the eviction process, including the initial notice to the tenant, filing the eviction, the evidentiary hearing, a ruling on the eviction, and enforcement of the order of eviction. For the purpose of state comparison, we have attempted to create broad categories at the state level. Whether the eviction moratoriums described herein apply to hotels, motels, mobile homes, and homeless shelters is dependent upon on state law.

The scorecard also tracks a variety of short and long-term supportive measures that, if adopted, would help tenants and homeowners secure or maintain their housing, like prohibiting utilities disconnections, halting foreclosure proceedings, or providing rent relief or financial support. These measures are not intended to be exhaustive and the absence of a measure is no indication of its utility.

For each state, we track and analyze all state-wide orders that include measures pertaining to housing or court functions, including executive orders, judicial orders, and legislation. This means that for many states, the final score includes cumulative policies derived from multiple sources. A list of all orders we consult is available here.

Generally, a scorecard measure must be included in at least one of the state’s unexpired orders or legislation for a state to achieve the measure. If an order could have the effect of suspending a stage in the eviction process but does not clearly do so, the state does not achieve that measure in the scorecard. For example, if eviction filings are prohibited, it would logically follow that, in effect, a court cannot hold eviction hearings. However, a court that has not suspended civil or eviction hearings or trials could still consider eviction cases that were filed prior to the moratorium. At the same time, eviction moratoriums are stronger, more comprehensive, and easier for renters and property owners to understand if each phase of the eviction process is clearly halted independent of another.

There are two exceptions to this rule. First, where a more comprehensive measure is taken, we also recognize that the state has achieved the less-comprehensive measures. For example, if the state prohibits eviction filings for any non-emergency reason, the state has also achieved the measures “No filing for nonpayment of rent” and “No filing if tenant has COVID-19-related hardship.” (See the scoring section below for more details.) Second, states achieve measures that are “in effect” present if the following two conditions are met: (1) the two measures are in the same category on the scorecard; and (2) the “in effect” measure proceeds chronologically after the “in fact” measure in the eviction process.

The list of tracked measures, and the formula to convert measures into a five-star score, was developed by the Eviction Lab and Professor Emily Benfer in consultation with a number of housing attorneys and advocates across the country. A list of people and organizations who generously provided feedback on this tool is available in the “Acknowledgements” section of this report.

Below, we discuss each of the five scoring categories in depth: initiation of eviction, the court process, enforcement of eviction order, short-term supports, and tenancy preservation measures.

Initiation of Eviction: Eviction, by nature of removing a person from their home, thwarts any attempt to support people’s ability to comply with shelter in place orders and recommendations, placing them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Eviction filings can prevent a tenant from securing new housing and damage credit, even if the court ultimately rules in the tenant’s favor or dismisses the case. Additionally, states that allow eviction filings to occur during the pandemic could experience mass evictions of tenants and an overtaxed court system as soon as emergency orders are lifted. It is important that both the service of notice to quit to the tenant and the filing of an eviction be prohibited, even if other emergency orders suspend other stages of eviction during the crisis.

In the Initiation of Eviction category, we track four measures:

  • Notice to tenants. In most states, a landlord must serve a tenant with a “notice to quit” prior to filing for eviction. A state has achieved this measure if landlords are prohibited from initiating the eviction process by serving notices to quit during the public health emergency.

  • No filing if tenant has COVID-19-related hardship. A state has achieved the measure if landlords are prohibited from filing to evict tenants who are experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19, such as health conditions or job loss, or if courts are not accepting these filings. Note that orders that limit filing prohibitions to cases where tenants are financially affected by COVID-19 or the response to the pandemic leave many tenants unprotected. We include these orders, which do not protect all tenants from eviction, on our scorecard because it provides an affirmative defense to eviction and preserves housing for some tenants.

  • No filing for nonpayment of rent. A state has achieved the measure if landlords are prohibited from filing to evict tenants for nonpayment of rent during the public health emergency, or if courts are not accepting these filings.

  • No eviction filing, except emergencies. A state has achieved the measure if landlords are prohibited from filing eviction cases for any non-emergency reason, or if courts are only accepting emergency landlord-tenant cases. Emergency cases during the pandemic typically include when a person poses substantial risk of harm to another person or the property or where there are serious code violations, among others.

Court Process: After a landlord notifies a tenant (if required by the state) and files an eviction case in court, the court process begins. In all states, courts have limited civil proceedings during the pandemic. This should prevent courts from processing eviction cases and issuing eviction orders. Court orders vary, however, in how they address eviction cases. Some states prohibit people who work in the court system from participating in actions that would lead to a tenant’s “ejectment,” or removal, from a home; other states expressly suspend eviction hearings; some have stayed all eviction judgments, which temporarily prevents law enforcement officers from removing tenants from homes; still others have done nothing along these lines or permit remote hearings.

In the Court Process category, we track four measures:

  • Hearings suspended. A state has achieved this measure if eviction hearings are suspended in the state. This can take a variety of forms, including suspending all non-essential civil proceedings and preventing court workers from taking actions that would lead to an eviction. Notably, a state has not achieved this measure if cases are permitted to proceed remotely via phone or video conferencing and the state has not issued further guidance on whether eviction cases should proceed.

  • Judgments of possession stayed. A state has achieved this measure if the court has stayed eviction judgments (which temporarily prohibits law enforcement from carrying out the eviction order) or if the court is not issuing eviction orders at this time.

  • Deadlines extended or tolled. This measure refers to requirements for how quickly people need to respond or submit materials at various stages in the course of an eviction. A state has achieved this measure if court deadlines are extended or tolled.

  • Eviction records sealed. Sealing court eviction records during the pandemic would prevent the negative repercussions of an eviction judgment, such as difficulty finding future housing. A state has achieved this measure if a state required record sealing prior to or during the pandemic.

Enforcement of Eviction Order: This category refers to the final stage of eviction, when a sheriff or other law enforcement officer enforces the court’s writ of possession, or order of eviction, by ensuring that the tenant and the tenant’s belongings are removed from the property.

In the Enforcement category, we track three measures:

  • No removal if tenant has COVID-19 hardship. A state has achieved this measure if law enforcement is prohibited from removing a tenant whose eviction judgment was the result of COVID-19-related hardship.

  • No removal of tenant for nonpayment of rent. A state has achieved this measure if law enforcement is prohibited from removing a tenant whose eviction judgment was the result of nonpayment of rent.

  • No removal of tenant, except emergencies. A state has achieved this measure if law enforcement is prohibited from removing a tenant for any non-emergency reason.

Short-Term Supports: This category refers to measures that, in the short-term, will provide support to help tenants remain in their homes.

In the Short-Term Supports category, we track six measures:

  • Moratorium extends past emergency declaration. A state has achieved this measure if one or more of the statewide measures will remain in effect for a period of time after the emergency declaration ends. This extension would give tenants more time to get back on their feet and would help prevent a wave of evictions when the immediate COVID-19 pandemic is contained.

  • No utility disconnection. Tenants must have basic utilities like electricity and water to safely shelter in place. A state has achieved this measure if its regulatory body—often a public utilities commission—has issued a binding order that prohibits utilities from disconnecting service for reason of nonpayment, or if an executive or legislative order prohibits disconnecting service for reason of nonpayment. Because not every state’s regulatory body has the authority to issue a binding order that applies to all utility companies in the state, this measure is not included in the state’s five-star rating.

  • Free utility reconnection. In some areas where shutoffs are banned, residents whose service was disconnected before the pandemic began must still pay a fee or resolve existing past-due bills to have the water, electricity, or gas turned back on. A state has achieved this measure if utility companies are banned from disconnecting service and are required to restore service, or make all “reasonable efforts” to restore service, without charge to the tenant. Because not every state’s regulatory body has the authority to issue a binding order that applies to all utility companies in the state, this measure is not included in the state’s five-star rating.

  • Grace period to pay rent. A state has achieved this measure if it requires landlords to allow tenants extra time to pay rent. A state has also achieved this measure if it mandates landlords offer tenants a payment plan that gives additional time to pay rent or the ability to pay rent in installments, for example, according to their income over a course of multiple months.

  • No report to credit bureau. If missed rental payments during the crisis are reported to credit bureaus, this could damage the credit of tenants who were financially affected by the COVID-19 crisis. A state has achieved this measure if it prohibits landlords from reporting past-due rent or missed rental payments to credit bureaus.

  • Foreclosure moratorium. A state has achieved this measure if the state has halted one or more parts of the foreclosure process.

Tenancy Preservation Measures: This category refers to measures that provide longer-term relief to tenants, helping to keep tenants in safe, decent housing after the COVID-19 pandemic is contained.

In the Tenancy Preservation Measures category, we track four measures:

  • No late fees. Charging late fees could make it harder for tenants to catch up on rent owed after the crisis ends. A state has achieved this measure if landlords cannot charge late fees or convenience fees for rent paid after the due date or paid in multiple installments during the pandemic.

  • No rent raises. A state has achieved this measure if landlords cannot increase the rental amount during the COVID-19 crisis.

  • Housing stabilization. When eviction moratoriums begin to expire, many tenants will have accrued significant amounts of rental debt over the course of the pandemic, owing to widespread unemployment, work slowdowns, and shelter-at-home guidelines. A state has achieved this measure if it has passed any measure to increase housing or reduce or cancel tenants’ debt. Possible measures include: creating rental assistance programs or subsidies, paying tenants’ past-due rent, freezing rent, detaching rental debt from tenancy, or canceling rental debts.

  • Legal counsel for tenants. With widespread confusion about what protections are and are not available to tenants, it is important that tenants have access to legal counsel when facing eviction. A state has achieved this measure if it guarantees free legal counsel to tenants in eviction cases.

Scoring

To calculate each state’s Eviction Moratorium Score, we consider eviction-prevention measures in five stages: Initiation, Court Actions, Enforcement, Supportive Measures, and Measures to Preserve Tenancy. Our five star scores are derived from a formula that groups measures by stage in the process or type of support, awarding points based on which measures states have enacted. Because some interventions have a greater impact on housing stability, the formula weights certain categories heavier than others.

The breakdown of points within the total score is as follows:

  • Initiation of Eviction: 40% of total score.
  • Court Process: 15% of total score.
  • Enforcement of Eviction Order: 15% of total score.
  • Short-Term Supports: 10% of total score.
  • Tenancy Preservation Measures: 20% of total score.

As such, the Initiation of Eviction measures are equivalent to two stars out of five total, and the final two categories together are worth one and a half stars. A state with five stars has implemented statewide measures that halt each part of the eviction process and provided support to keep tenants in their homes. A state with one or two stars might only suspend one part of the process and has not taken action to prevent widespread eviction post-pandemic.

Within categories, more weight is given to protections that are more comprehensive or that will create a greater or more lasting impact on housing stability for tenants. The weighting of points within each category is as follows:

  • Initiation of Eviction: No notice to quit (20%); No filing if tenant has COVID-19 hardship (30%); No filing for nonpayment (30%); No filing, except emergencies (20%). Please note that if the measure for no nonpayment filings is present, the measure related to COVID-19 hardship is also marked as present, so that in effect the no filings for nonpayment of rent measure constitutes 60% of the score in this category. In the same way, if the most comprehensive filings-related measure is present, “No filing, except emergencies,” the state receives credit for both of the two narrower filings-related measures. The presence of the “No filing, except emergencies” measure awards the state 80% of the score for this category.

  • Court Process: Hearings suspended (40%); Judgments of possession stayed (20%); Deadlines extended or tolled (10%); Eviction records sealed (30%).

  • Enforcement of Eviction Order: No removal if tenant has COVID-19 hardship (30%); No removal of tenant for nonpayment (40%); No removal of tenant, except emergencies (30%). Please note that if the measure for no enforcement of nonpayment-related eviction orders is present, the measure related to COVID-19 hardship is also marked as present. In effect, the no enforcement of evictions for nonpayment of rent measure constitutes 70% of the score in this category. In the same way, if the most comprehensive filings-related measure is present, “No removal of tenant, except emergencies,” the state receives credit for both of the two narrower measures in this category. The presence of the “No removal of tenant, except emergencies” measure awards the state 100% of the score for this category.

  • Short-Term Supports: Moratorium extends past emergency declaration (25%); No utility disconnection (0%—see details above); Free utility reconnection (0%—see details above); Grace period to repay rent (12.5%); No report to credit bureau (12.5%); Foreclosure moratorium (50%).

  • Tenancy Preservation Measures: No late fees (12.5%); No rent raises (12.5%); Housing stabilization (50%); Legal counsel for tenants (25%).

Acknowledgements

A special thanks is given to Anne Kat Alexander and Alieza Durana at the Eviction Lab and to Amy Groshek, James Minton, and Sasha Zyryaev at Hyperobjekt for their instrumental work in designing and authoring the scorecard; and to Columbia Law School and Mailman School of Public Health students Katherine Donohue, Ruth Hirsch, Jennifer Katz, Michelle Lappen, Jordan Lieberman, Janki Tailor, and Marissa Yochelson Long for their contribution to data analysis and management.

We are grateful for the outstanding research support provided by the following law and public health students from Columbia Law School, University of Pennsylvania School of Law, University of Michigan School of Law, and Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health: Dionna Attinson, Katherine Donohue, Susan Fleurant, Harry Frank, Shravya Govindgari, Taylor Hertzler, Ruth Hirsch, Jennifer Katz, Ellen Kim, Robert Koehler, Rani Kulkarni, Michelle Lappen, Nicole Levy, Jordan Lieberman, Josh Malkin, Sarah McElwee, Justin Porter, Jacob Roth, Nika Sabasteanski, Janki Tailor, Wendy Xiao, Marissa Yochelson Long, and Nora Zakaria.

We are also grateful for the research support provided by the following members of the Eviction Lab: Lavar Edmonds, Joe Fish, Katie Krywokulski, Lillian Leung, Renee Louis, Matt Mleczko, Helena Najm, Scott Overby, Devin Rutan, Naomi Shiffrin, and Gillian Slee.

The Eviction Lab is supported by the JPB, Gates, and Ford Foundations, as well as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number P2CHD047879. The content of the COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard does not represent the official views of any of these organizations.

We are grateful for the support of the following partners for their guidance in crafting the methodology of the scorecard:

  • Peggy Bailey (Center for Budget and Policy Priorities)
  • Alicia Mazzara (Center for Budget and Policy Priorities)
  • Rebecca Gerrard (Citizens Action of New York)
  • Olatunde Johnson (Columbia Law School)
  • Bruce Western (Columbia University)
  • Alana Greer (Community Justice Project, Inc.)
  • Navneet Grewal (Disability Rights California)
  • Joey Michalakes (Greater Boston Legal Services)
  • Maxwell Ciardullo (Greater New Orleans Fair Housing)
  • Antonia Fasanelli (Homeless Persons Representation Project)
  • Florence Roisman (Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law)
  • Mark Swartz (Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing)
  • Diane Glauber (Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights)
  • Tom Silverstein (Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights)
  • Sara Rips (Legal Aid of Nebraska’s Housing Justice Project)
  • Caitlin Cedfeldt (Legal Aid of Nebraska’s Housing Justice Project)
  • Scott Mertz (Legal Aid of Nebraska’s Housing Justice Project)
  • Beth Harrison (Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia)
  • David Kagle (Legal Assistance of Western New York)
  • Greg Payne (Maine Affordable Housing Coalition)
  • Andrea Park (Mass Law Reform Institute)
  • Eric Dunn (National Housing Law Project)
  • Deborah Thrope (National Housing Law Project)
  • Eric Tars (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty)
  • Kim Johnson (National Low Income Housing Coalition)
  • Sarah Mickelson (National Low Income Housing Coalition)
  • Diane Yentel (National Low Income Housing Coalition)
  • Colleen Healy Boufides (The Network for Public Health Law)
  • Amy Eppler Epstein (New Haven Legal Assistance Association)
  • Amy Marx (New Haven Legal Assistance Association)
  • Shelley White (New Haven Legal Assistance Association)
  • Christine Appah (New York Lawyers for the Public Interest)
  • Ruthie Lazenby (New York Lawyers for the Public Interest)
  • Xavier Briggs (New York University)
  • Graham Bowman (Ohio Poverty Law Center)
  • Tara Raghuveer (People’s Action)
  • George Donnelly (Public Interest Law Center)
  • John Pollock (National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel)
  • Rachel Blake (Regional Housing Legal Services)
  • Spencer Wells (RHINO)
  • Susanna Blankley (Right to Counsel Coalition)
  • Norrinda Brown Hayat (Rutgers Law School)
  • Emily Coffey (Shriver Center on Poverty Law)
  • Allyson Gold (University of Alabama School of Law)
  • Kathryn Sabbeth (University of North Carolina School of Law)
  • Fred Fuchs (The University of Texas at Austin School of Law)
  • Solomon Green (Urban Institute)

The renting population statistic on the tool comes from the United States Census Bureau. U.S. Census Bureau. Total Population in Renter Occupied Housing Units by Units in Structure, ACS 2018 (5-Year Estimates). Prepared by Social Explorer. (accessed Apr 16 10:37:03 EST 2020).

For additional COVID-19 housing resources and tools built by other organizations:

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