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Dayton’s eviction rate among highest in Midwest

The city of Dayton has one of the highest evictions rates among large Midwestern cities, which some observers say raises questions about housing affordability in a market that has been nationally recognized as a cheap place to live.

In Dayton, nearly six of every 100 renter households are evicted each year, which is a higher rate than all but five major Midwest municipalities, including just one in Ohio, according to data from the Eviction Lab at Princeton University.

“We know that evictions are extremely devastating to the people who go through it,” said Adam Porton, a research specialist in the Eviction Lab. “About 1,800 households experienced eviction in Dayton, which was about 5 households per day in 2016.”

But it’s important to realize that landlords aren’t “eviction happy” and don’t want to oust their tenants because it costs money and takes time, said Steven Katchman, an attorney who represents landlords in the Dayton area.

Home prices and rental costs in Dayton are below national averages for mid-sized and large cities, but some researchers say that does not mean that citizens can afford local rents.

Some people spend a huge share of their income on housing, which puts them at significant risk of falling behind on rent and facing eviction if any other emergency expense arises, which can be hugely disruptive and carry long-lasting consequences, according to groups that have analyzed eviction filings.

Landlords must take action when rent hasn’t been paid — sometimes for months — and they have exhausted all their options to try to obtain payment, Katchman said.

“It’s not personal — it’s a business issue,” Katchman said.

He said Dayton’s eviction rate is likely an economic issue, which he says he does not know how to address.

The Eviction Lab estimates that there were about 1,854 evictions in Dayton in 2016.

Data obtained by this newspaper from Dayton Municipal Court indicate there were slightly more evictions — 1,961 — granted in 2016.

Dayton’s eviction rate was 5.94 percent in 2016, according to the lab, which represents the number of evictions divided by the number of renting households in the city.

Dayton ranked 26th in the nation for its eviction rate for U.S. cities with more than 100,000 people, according to the Eviction Lab, which does not have complete data for all cities.

Across the Midwest, the only large cities with higher rates were Warren, Mich., (8.08 percent); Fort Wayne, Ind. (7.39 percent); Indianapolis (7.27 percent); South Bend, Ind. (6.71 percent); and Akron (6.06 percent).

The data indicate evictions are a problem in communities across the country, and those communities hopefully will feel compelled to dig deeper and find out what’s going on since evictions affect people in profound ways, Porton said.

Evictions often happen to low- to moderate-income renters who are spending a big chunk of their income — sometimes as much as 70 percent or more — on housing, he said.

That means they are in danger of falling behind on rent if they have an unplanned emergency expense, like if their vehicle breaks down or they require medical care or a loved one dies, he said.

Katchman said his clients try to work with tenants to get payments up to date, and often they give tenants a break if they make good-faith efforts to pay what is owed.

Landlords want their units occupied because that’s how they earn income and pay the mortgages on the properties, so it’s disadvantageous to evict people, Katchman said.

But people can’t live somewhere for free, and landlords have to act when their tenants violate their lease by not paying rent, he said.

Some researchers say evictions and a lack of affordable housing go hand in hand.

Dayton may have lower-than-average home prices, but the city has a fairly high poverty rate, and it’s hard to afford rent if there aren’t enough good-paying jobs, they said.

Research by Kyle Gibbs, a geography and GIS student at Sinclair Community College, found that monthly rental costs in poorer Dayton neighborhoods tend to be about the same as rents in higher-income suburbs.

Landlords are charging about the same amounts for rent for homes valued between $40,000 and $80,000 in parts of Dayton as those who own homes worth between $150,000 to $200,000 in other communities across the region, Gibbs said.

Areas with high rates of evictions tend to struggle with neighborhood instability, and it’s a mess for the schools, said Katherine Rowell, sociology professor at Sinclair Community College whose class has analyzed local eviction data.

People who have an eviction filed against them — even if the filing was not granted — may struggle to find reasonably priced and good-quality housing, because many landlords shun any applicants with eviction records, she said.

Many people have to settle for substandard housing in worse neighborhoods that have higher rents, compared to what they would pay for better housing in better areas without an eviction record, she said.

Being poor can be expensive, Rowell said, and tenants may be reluctant to exercise their legal rights to demand sub-par housing conditions be fixed out of fear their landlords will try to kick them out.

Eviction prevention would save landlords money because there are costs associated with going to court and removing people from a property, Rowell said. Advocates say they want to create awareness about evictions in the hopes of coming up with some programs to combat them, like emergency assistance loans and tenant-rights training.

Some potential consequences of evictions include job losses and homelessness. People may not be able to find a new place to live. Or if they do, they may end up far from work and have no way to get there.

Families often have to pull their children out of school when they are evicted and leave the district. They may lose many personal belongings if they can’t find a way to move them or don’t have a new place to put them.

Some evictions could be avoided if tenants better understood the law.

Sometimes, tenants do not pay their rent because they believe their landlords aren’t meeting their obligations to keep up and take care of their property, Katchman said.

But there is a legal process, called escrowing rent, that involves depositing rental payments with the courts instead of paying a landlord until he or she make essential repairs, like fixing a broken heating and cooling system, he said.

Under Ohio law, withholding rent is a not a reasonable defense against eviction unless it is escrowed with the court, Katchman said. He also said rent escrows are for issues that affect a property habitability, and not minor issues, like a torn carpet.

“I think Ohio handles landlord/tenant issues really well because of that rent escrow statute,” he said.

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