Volume 28

Stay at Home: Rethinking Rental Housing Law in an Era of Pandemic

by Shannon Price

For more than a decade, scholars across disciplines have documented housing insecurity as a chronic condition of working poverty in the United States. Now, the COVID-19 economic crisis threatens a tsunami of pandemic-induced evictions. Widespread government mandates to “stay at home” ring hollow as eviction filings pile up in local courts, while tenant blacklisting ensures that the consequences of an eviction today will haunt a tenant for years.

By offering an in-depth survey of lease-termination requirements and the role of housing conditions and retaliatory eviction across states, this Article illustrates the practical impact of subtle variations in landlord-tenant law on poor tenants facing eviction. It reviews a sampling of state housing policy responses to the pandemic and proposes concrete reforms to the law designed to mitigate power imbalances between landlords and tenants and slow the cogs of the Eviction Economy.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a tragedy of unprecedented scale. It is also a call to action. The decisions that state and local governments make on housing policy in the coming months will alter the course of thousands of lives. America’s Eviction Economy stands to compound the worst economic effects of the pandemic. It is the sincere hope of the Author that state and local governments do not allow this result.




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