The Exorbitant Eviction Waiting Game

Crossposted at Fix Homelessness

When management of a Tacoma housing community leased an apartment to Morgan* in 2022, they never imagined the ensuing behavior in her unit would cost them well over $58,000. Or that she would, despite the behavior, still be living there today. Nearly an entire building of apartment homes sits vacant on the property due to activity in Morgan’s unit.

Last August, roughly one year after she moved in, Morgan stopped paying rent. Property management describe “constant traffic in and out of the home,” and say that a group of people now live there. When the group is not in the apartment, they can be found at a homeless encampment nearby or breaking into the surrounding vacant units. These residents have allegedly also robbed other residents at gunpoint and assaulted passersby. It is even alleged that someone who was seen in the problematic unit murdered a visitor on the property in a drug-deal gone bad.

Management’s hands are tied, as a measure passed by the city last year prohibits evictions from November through April 1. But even when the city’s cold weather eviction moratorium lifts, it could take weeks to months to schedule a physical eviction with the Tacoma Sheriff’s office, as the office is already backed up, a situation that will only be made worse when the moratorium lifts.

The waiting game is costly and dangerous. The property has already lost nearly $60,000 in rent alone — and repairs, replacements, and maintenance have cost thousands more. Morgan owes a growing balance of almost $17,000 and has cost the property another $2,000 in legal fees. Four separate residents moved out within months of signing the lease after having their homes broken into by people living in her unit. That cost the property $21,000 in waived fees and lost rent.

Another woman was chased from her car to her home at gunpoint by people from Morgan’s unit. She moved out early. That cost the property about $4,300.

A sixth resident is currently being evicted due to illegal activity and is known to have previously associated with the people living in Morgan’s unit. That’s costing the property over $8,000. And to tie it all up, a seventh apartment has remained vacant due to the obvious ongoing criminal activity, costing $6,000 in lost rent to date.

Tacoma’s Measure 1, which introduced the five-month-per-year eviction moratorium, also lengthened every eviction process by forcing show-cause hearings. In a typical evictions process, one of two things can happen after a legal team performs a summons and complaint. If the resident responds to the summons, a show-cause hearing gives them an opportunity to respond to the legal complaint. If they don’t respond to the summons, the case is expedited by a motion for default.

The city’s new law requires a show-cause hearing in every eviction case regardless of whether the tenant responds to the summons. The law states that an eviction cannot occur until “after the tenant has an opportunity in a show-cause hearing to contest the eviction” (TMC 1.95.090). Tacoma residents likely voted in Measure 1 because it was sold to them as a way to protect tenants. In reality, every tenant in this building has been harmed or endangered by the hand-tying effect of the law, which prevents dangerous residents from being quickly removed.

Measure 1 was introduced in Tacoma by a grassroots organization, Tacoma For All, in partnership with the Tacoma Pierce County Democratic Socialists of America. The campaign to pass the measure received its largest single contribution, $20,000, from the Democratic Socialists of America, who are on a mission to use “state action to acquire private property and transform it into public democratically controlled housing.” The socialist agenda is extreme, and yet vitriol for the private housing marketplace is creeping into the public sphere.

A Los Angeles Times opinion piece decrying rising housing costs for “increasing the wealth of homeowners even as they punish many renters,” provides a glimpse of what has become the consensus view of the landlord-tenant relationship in many large cities. Instead of a mutually beneficial exchange of goods, the landlord-tenant relationship is portrayed as a zero-sum power structure. Landlords accrue wealth, and tenants are the victims of their greed.

It’s time for a reality check. Landlords and tenants alike can behave poorly. Creating policies that assumes the good of one group and the malicious intent of the other actually ends up hurting both parties. In a free market, landlord success is entirely dependent on bringing in tenants with competitive pricing and keeping them there with good relations. Likewise, renter success is dependent on paying what was agreed to and treating the property and community with basic respect.

When the government intervenes in that free exchange of goods, the economic costliness of such policies drives housing costs up even further. Tacoma’s Measure 1, even if well-meaning, has created a disaster for both landlords and tenants. A more balanced approach is desperately needed — one that recognizes the realities of both economics and human nature.

*Name changed for privacy.

Caitlyn McKenney

Program Coordinator, Center on Wealth and Poverty
Caitlyn (Axe) McKenney is program coordinator for Discovery Institute’s Center on Wealth & Poverty. Her work has centered on government fiscal accountability, political rhetoric, and addiction with a focus on human dignity ethics. Caitlyn is a graduate of the University of Washington, has interned for a political advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., and has participated in the Vita Institute at the University of Notre Dame. She is published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, has contributed at the Federalist, and has made local and national media appearances.