Study: Tenants in 1 out of 6 rentals faced eviction in Michigan

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

Tenants in one out of every six rentals in Michigan faced eviction in 2018, according to new research by the University of Michigan and a legal aid group that warn the pandemic likely will worsen the problem. 

Among the counties and cities with the highest rate of eviction cases filed per rentals were Genesee (27%) , Macomb (24%) and Wayne (23.5%) along with Romulus (47%), Inkster (40%), Taylor (37%) and Southfield (33%). Data by community included court filings between 2014 and 2018.

Organizer Joe McGuire walks and holds a sign while people drive their vehicles around Cadillac Place as part of a caravan protest organized by Detroit Eviction Defense in Detroit on May 13, 2020. The group calls for extending the eviction ban until at least 60 days have passed after the end of the current state of emergency.

Less than 5% of renters were represented by lawyers, compared to 83% of landlords, the study found. 

While eviction cases have declined statewide, the report finds Michigan's eviction filing rate of 17% is higher than several other cities nationwide. That includes Chicago at 4%, Philadelphia, at least 7%, and Hamilton County, Ohio at 9%, according to similar studies. Researchers said they didn't have reliable data to fairly compare Michigan's rate to other states. 

The researchers warned the pandemic will worsen Michigan's already "extremely high eviction filing rates." 

"As low-income workers lose their jobs and fall behind on rent, we anticipate an increase in eviction case filings statewide, which will stress the resources of already burdened courts and legal and social services agencies and impose great hardship on tenants," said Robert Goodspeed, U-M assistant professor of urban and regional planning and principal investigator of the Michigan Eviction Project report, which was done with Legal Services of South Central Michigan

The project recommended the state take several steps to protect tenants including guaranteed legal representation and increasing funding for affordable housing and emergency rental assistance.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently extended the ban on evictions during the COVID-19 crisis until June 11. The state order doesn't change renters' obligation to pay rent. 

Landlords say they have been hit hard by the pandemic and predict that, unless more is done to help, the coming mortgage foreclosure crisis could be worse than 2008's.

The study looked at eviction filings. Data on how many evictions were eventually carried out through the courts wasn't available. In 2018, Michigan landlords filed a total of 191,512 eviction cases. 

In a 2017 investigation, The Detroit News found families in 1 out of 5 Detroit rentals face eviction every year and that the vast majority of landlords who took their renters to court were themselves operating illegally.