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Do Large Landlords’ Eviction Practices Differ from Small Landlords’?

The Social and Institutional Contexts Underlying Landlords’ Eviction Practices
Henry Gomory
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In an average year between 2000 and 2016, more than 2 million households faced eviction. Evictions have a wide range of negative consequences for individual households and the broader community. Though much of the research on evictions has focused on renters, landlords have a critical role in housing stability. In this study, the author focuses on how different types of landlords respond to social and institutional pressures and put tenants at risk of eviction.

This study uses a novel dataset of all landlords in Boston, Massachusetts, between 2003 and 2017. The author linked organizations and people to create a dataset of 108,417 landlords that unmasks shell companies. They categorize large landlords as those with 15 or more properties and focus on different types of landlord-tenant relationships, including coresidence, type of property management, legal status (i.e., whether they’re shell companies), landlord income, and inheritance of property. They scraped records of eviction filings in Boston Housing Court between 2008 and 2016 to determine why the landlord filed, how much the tenant owed, and whether the tenant was removed. Finally, they focused on landlord-tenant conflict by analyzing 911 calls categorized as “landlord/tenant trouble” between 2010 and 2014. The authors find that large landlords evict more frequently than small landlords.

Key findings
  • The average small landlord owned just over one unit, was a sole proprietor and not a company, and lived in the same building as their tenants more than a quarter of the time. The average large landlord owned about 55 units, almost never lived with tenants, and owned through multiple companies.
  • In Boston, large landlords made up fewer than 1 percent of owners but owned more than one-third of all units. Small-scale landlords owned properties in wealthier neighborhoods than large-scale owners, but there was little difference in the racial composition of neighborhoods.
  • Large landlords filed evictions 186 percent more often and medium landlords filed 55 percent more often than small landlords.
  • Differences in filing were not driven by tenants’ characteristics, but by the ownership structure. Filing rates before a sale were similar across properties, but filing rates for buildings bought by large owners quadrupled in the sale year and then remained higher than before.
  • Filings by midsize and large landlords had 48 percent and 93 percent higher odds of being over nonpayment of rent compared with filings by small landlords.
  • Filings by large landlords had 68 percent lower odds of ending in execution compared with small-landlord filings. Even though each filing by a large landlord was less likely to reach execution, large landlords filed so often they still executed at higher rates than small owners.
  • Filings by midsize and large landlords had 55 percent and 161 percent higher odds of being serial filings compared with those by small landlords, suggesting that large landlords’ high filing rates were driven by a management strategy of filing to collect rent from tenants.
  • Filings by midsize and large landlords had 43 percent and 84 percent lower odds of having conflict calls, suggesting that while small landlords filed less frequently, their filings were more likely to be accompanied by interpersonal conflict.
  • Landlords with property managers and landlords structured as companies filed evictions about 22 percent to 41 percent more often, carried filings through to execution about 27 percent to 22 percent less, and had about 38 percent to 66 percent less interpersonal conflict with tenants.
  • Small landlords were more likely to live close to tenants. Opportunities for informal decisionmaking made it less likely for small landlords to file an eviction; arms-length relationships with tenants and bureaucratic management practices allowed evictions from large landlords to be more instrumental.
Policy implications
  • This study suggests that cities’ antieviction efforts should target the market’s largest landlords, who likely also have the highest eviction rates.
  • Findings indicate that policies that incentivize large-scale capital investment to provide affordable housing, such as the Opportunity Zones provisions of the 2017 US tax code, may have mixed effects, as they may lead to consolidation of rental markets, which could increase local eviction rates.
  • Promote policies that incentivize capital investment by local residents and stakeholders, whose social relations in the community may be a more effective strategy for maintaining housing affordability.