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Justice Diverted: a new study on eviction in Baltimore

December 7, 2015

The Public Justice Center published today Justice Diverted: How Renters are Processed in the Baltimore City Rent Court. This new research provides a deep dive into Baltimore’s evictions crisis, where approximately 7,000 families are evicted each year, taking a particularly heavy toll on women and African Americans.

The data in the report demonstrates how the outcome of an eviction case often does not depend on the merits of the case. Rather, the fate of a family’s home rides on a court system that puts long-standing tenant protections and basic housing standards second to court efficiency and landlords’ bottom line. Read the study here.

Key findings from the study include:

Baltimore City’s Rent Court is designed to efficiently handle its immense caseload by diverting renters away from presenting their cases to the judge.

The Court usually turns a blind eye to landlords who are not in compliance with local licensing and lead paint laws, and whose cases should be thrown out.

Nearly 60% of renters had valid legal reasons to fight eviction, such as the landlord’s failure to address mold, pests, or lack of heat. Yet most lost their eviction case because they couldn’t afford a lawyer and didn’t understand their rights under the law. Most landlords have lawyers or other representatives experienced in court process.

The study recommends several reforms:

  • Cut the number of eviction cases being filed in half by requiring a pre-filing notice of eviction, so that most disputes are resolved out of court, as the vast majority of other states do.
  • Demand that landlords document their rent claims and strictly scrutinize their claims of being licensed and compliant with lead paint laws.
  • Level the playing field by increasing tenant’s access to legal information, assistance at court, and legal representation.
  • Expand licensing and property inspection requirements so that all rental housing meets health and safety standards.
  • Fund eviction prevention programs to meet the scale of the eviction crisis.

Justice Diverted is based on hundreds of surveys, extensive interviews, review of court records, and court watches. The Public Justice Center conducted and wrote the study in collaboration with the Right to Housing Alliance, Dan Pasciuti, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University, and Michele Cotton, J.D., Ph.D., of the University of Baltimore. We thank the Abell Foundation for funding this study.

The publication of Justice Diverted kicks off the 7,000 Families Campaign to stop the eviction pipeline and make lasting change for Baltimore’s renters. Join the Public Justice Center, Right to Housing Alliance, and Jews United for Justice for a rally on Tuesday, December 8, at noon at the War Memorial Plaza in Baltimore to hear about the report findings and launch the 7,000 Families Campaign.

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