‘Evictors Catalog’: Database created to show who is responsible for the highest number of evictions

As rent continues to increase in Central Virginia, experts says evictions are increasing as well. According to VCU’s RVA Eviction lab, the City of Richmond has
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 2:28 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - As rent continues to increase in Central Virginia, experts say evictions are also growing. According to VCU’s RVA Eviction lab, the City of Richmond has the second-highest eviction rate in the nation.

“The social cost of housing instability is enormous. It affects the physical health, mental well-being, employment and educational attainment of individuals and families, with people of color being disproportionately affected,” explained Dr. Kathryn Howell, Co-Director of the Eviction Lab. “Research demonstrates that housing instability is rooted not in individual or community failures, but in policies of exclusion, displacement, disinvestment and discrimination.”

Dr. Howell is among the researchers behind the Virginia Evictors Catalog Database. It shows who is responsible for the highest number of court-based evictions and eviction filings. The database was released in collaboration with UVA’s Equity Center. The organizations say the goal is to address unjust eviction processes.

“Right now, if you’re a landlord, you can learn a whole lot about your tenants. You do credit checks, you can do background checks, you can go on the court’s website and search them and find out if they’ve been evicted,” said Dr. Howell. “You know a lot about tenants, but if we don’t even know the name of the landlord when we’re renters, it’s really hard for us to make really informed decisions about where we want to move. So that’s been one of the big things, helping tenants have equal information, making sure landlords are following the law.”

According to data collected for the Evictors Catalog, 15 landlords are responsible for more than half of all evictions in Richmond.

The database compiles information from January 2018 to September 2022 that is publicly available through Virginia General District Court.

The data shows who is responsible for the highest number of court-based evictions and eviction filings, where they are happening, how many cases they’ve filed, and how many eviction judgments have resulted from them.

“It isn’t all landlords who are doing this, but there’s a certain set of landlords who do evict at quite high levels. We’ve known this for a while,” said Dr. Howell. “Neighborhood racial composition---actually is the largest predictor of neighborhood eviction rates. So we start to sort of wonder, well, what’s going on there? And what we’re starting to find actually is the different landlords behave differently and in particular communities. That’s really an important kind of piece to understand.”

Marty Wegbreit, with the Central Virginia Legal Aide Society, says the Evictors Catalog also shows that many of the top evictors in the Richmond area are either out-of-state LLCs or have headquarters in other cities like Charlottesville or Virginia Beach.

“I think to a certain extent, the Victor database will be helpful for tenants, and certainly, it’s a public access document, so they can look at it. If a tenant has a choice between renting from a landlord who is on the top evictor list and a landlord who is not on that top evictor list, that’s kind of a no-brainer,” said Wegbreit. “The big problem for a lot of tenants is they don’t have a choice. They have one option, and they need to take that one option. Even if it’s the bad option, that option is better than no option at all.”

According to Webgreit, during the pandemic, landlords with five or more units had to give a 14-day nonpayment notice and offer payment plans before filing an eviction. That ended in June 2022. He says with nonpayment notices changing from 14 days to five days and people paying more to rent, we are seeing what housing advocates have called an eviction tsunami.

Wegbreit says there are other options he encourages landlords to explore. He says right now, many landlords are using the court as a “rent collection tool.” Wegbreit suggests trying to work with a tenant before filing in court.

“So rather than taking the hard-line stand of pay up in five days, which doesn’t do either party any good, it results in the landlord not getting paid, and it results in the tenant not having housing. The parties should work together to explore things like the eviction diversion program, and there’s a family crisis fund, and there are other public and sometimes private sources of rental assistance that really need to be explored as a first option, as well as a payment plan.”

Dr. Howell hopes the database will help renters make informed decisions while searching for places to live.

“I just hope more people use it. I think that’s the big thing. If more people can use it and tell us what they need, I think that’s really powerful. We have a lot of conversations with folks all the time. Many of them are very vocal about what they need,” said Dr. Howell. “I put it out to my students [and said] ‘I hope that you all use this when you go to make a decision about where you’re renting. I hope you use this and tell me what you need.’”