In 2016, 3,255 renters in the city of Los Angeles were evicted from their homes, according to data released last week by the Eviction Lab, a research group at Princeton University.
For a city of 4 million, that rate is fairly low. As the Eviction Lab data illustrates, the United States is in the midst of an eviction crisis of tremendous scale. Nationwide, nearly 1 million renters were forced to find new housing in 2016.
In some cities, more than 10 percent of renters were evicted in just one year. The highest rate of eviction was in North Charleston, South Carolina, a city of just over 100,000 residents that saw more total evictions (3,660) than Los Angeles. In North Charleston, 16.5 percent of renters were evicted; in LA, 0.38 percent of renters had to move because of eviction.
Longtime tenant activist Larry Gross, director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, says compared with cities like North Charleston, Los Angeles has crafted laws that do a good job of protecting renters from arbitrary or unfair evictions.
“There’s no doubt that’s tied to renter protections,” he says. Tenants in other states, he says, are “easier prey.”
Other California cities with even stronger renter protections had lower rates of eviction than Los Angeles. In Santa Monica, the eviction rate was 0.29 percent; in San Francisco, it was 0.25 percent.
California cities without laws on the books barring “no fault” evictions (that’s when a landlord removes a tenant that hasn’t missed rent or violated a lease agreement) had comparatively higher eviction rates. In Fresno, for instance, the rate is 2.74 percent; in Compton, it’s 2.48 percent.
These numbers still don’t compare to those in many cities outside of California, and Gross says that’s probably because state laws bar landlords from retaliating against tenants and requires them to keep rental properties in good condition (tenants can challenge evictions in court if the landlord hasn’t done this).
But Gross cautions against celebrating the numbers too much. He says eviction totals don’t measure the many informal ways landlords can remove a tenant—by raising the rent or simply paying renters to leave through cash for keys buyouts.
In his 2016 book, Evicted, sociologist Matthew Desmond, who leads the Eviction Lab, details the profound impacts that an eviction can have on renters—often leading to trouble finding new housing, job loss, and negative mental health side effects.
In light of this, Gross says it’s important for LA tenants to know their rights as renters.
“A rent control law is just a piece of paper—unless people know what their rights are,” he says.