Here’s How Millions Can Keep Their Homes As Eviction Cliff Nears


More than three million renters say they are at risk of losing their homes with the federal eviction moratorium set to expire this week, but a new Zillow analysis shows the number of households evicted could be as low as 130,000, depending on government action, the pace of economic recovery, and how landlords respond.

That range highlights the need for federal intervention — both a continuing moratorium and additional assistance that will help not only struggling renters but also their landlords, such as the $45 billion in rental assistance in the recently passed federal stimulus bill.

“Job disruptions and economic hardships brought by the pandemic have hit renters particularly hard, and the number at risk for eviction is staggering.  Although the path forward is uncertain, there are still ways for policymakers to keep the vast majority of renters in their homes,” said Chris Glynn, senior managing economist at Zillow.  “We know two things for certain: the current eviction moratorium is succeeding at keeping renters in their homes, and millions of renters believe that they will be evicted in coming months.  How many actually are evicted depends on the economic recovery and individual landlord decisions.”

Forecasting the number of likely evictions

According to Zillow’s analysis of the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, some 3.4 million Americans say they are at risk of eviction this spring. As few as 130,000 to as many as 660,000 renter households ultimately could be evicted, depending on the federal moratorium, which is currently set to expire March 31, the economic recovery, and individual landlord decision-making.

More than 8.3 million U.S. renters reported being behind on rent payments as of March 15, with 16.8% (1.41 million) of those respondents indicating they were ‘very likely’ to be evicted in the next two months. While these numbers are sobering, it is expected that a small fraction of those fearing eviction will actually lose their homes — not all landlords will choose to evict, and also, not all eviction filings result in actual eviction judgments in courts.

However, with no historical precedent for this potential crisis, predicting how small the fraction might be  once the moratorium expires is extremely difficult, especially with remaining uncertainty around federal policies and how landlords are able to respond.

Landlords are facing difficult choices

Every tenant-landlord relationship is unique, but evictions based strictly on owed rent aren’t always in the landlord’s best interest. The process of evicting a tenant is time-consuming, and in the end, landlords might find themselves struggling for several months to fill vacant units, which will ultimately cost them even more.

“Landlords are willing to work with tenants, and when the moratoria ends we would much rather find a “solution than evict,” says Kellie Tollifson, owner and vice president of operations of T-Square Real Estate Services. “It’s all about maintaining a relationship and open communication to figure out the best path for your unique situation. Landlords can direct tenants where to find assistance or work out payment plans that support both parties. Keeping people housed is the right thing to do, and it’s also good for business, so landlords are highly motivated to work with renters to get through the pandemic together.”

One mutually beneficial solution is offering a repayment plan and amortizing the back rent into ongoing rent payments, with landlords effectively serving as private creditors as they recover back rent over time. In this scenario, the benefit to the renter is avoiding an eviction, and the landlord is made financially whole. However, that might not be feasible for landlords who need a steady cash flow to make mortgage payments and remain afloat.