Why Eviction Diversion Matters

By Chi-Hyun Kim, Research and Education Manager

Imagine that you are a renter working paycheck to paycheck. Your child falls sick, and you miss work. Overdue bills quickly pile up. Overwhelmed, you stop picking up the repeated calls from your landlord.

Imagine that you are a landlord who hasn’t gotten a rent check from a tenant. You keep calling, but you’re not able to get through to them. Your mortgage is still due.

This is a situation that many thousands of tenants and landlords face each year in Pennsylvania. All too often (nearly 90,000 times already this year), this results in an eviction case being filed in court.

The prototypical eviction case goes like this: a landlord files, paying a court fee that usually exceeds $150. A hearing is scheduled just two weeks in advance, and the tenant, who is most likely in trauma and doesn’t expect to win in court, does not show up for the hearing. They may not even realize they are in danger of losing their home, since court notices are often written in opaque legalese and don’t always clearly communicate the consequences of the eviction filing. The landlord argues in court that the tenant did not pay rent, and the judge orders the tenant to pay the back rent and fees, or be evicted. The tenant loses the home, either when the sheriff shows up at the door, or when they move out to avoid being evicted by the sheriff. Still, the landlord is unlikely to recover any money due to them. The tenant, who now has an eviction filing on record, will have a much more difficult time finding a landlord willing to rent to them. In the end, everyone is worse off.

Eviction diversion programs work by addressing each step of the process that I sketched above, turning a process that harms all parties into a process that meets all parties’ needs. First, they open lines of communication between the landlord, the tenant, and the court. The program can act as a third party that can help overcome miscommunication and mistrust that often builds up before an eviction is filed. Second, they provide assistance: rental assistance, which can address any underlying rental debt; legal assistance, which helps tenants understand the legal rights they have; and potentially other sources of assistance that might be relevant to the case. Third, the program provides the coordination necessary so that everyone is well informed of what is happening, what actions they need to take, and what they can expect in the future.

And these commonsense measures have borne fruit. In the two eviction diversion programs we studied, cases were more than twice as likely to be settled or be withdrawn by the landlord, compared to the status quo before the program. Eviction orders, which allow the sheriff to legally eject the tenant, were cut by half in both programs compared to the status quo. The strategies implemented by the diversion programs—communication, assistance, and coordination—disrupt the ‘usual’ eviction process and turn a foregone conclusion of eviction to an actual solution that can foster stability for tenants, landlords, and the broader community.

The harms of eviction are clear: families lose a stable foundation they need to work, stay healthy, and go to school. Neighborhoods are faced with more turnover and instability. More people are driven to homelessness, emergency rooms become more crowded, and schools see fewer children attending class. But this isn’t an inevitable outcome communities have to live with—our report shows that action can and does work. It could work in your community, too.

To learn more, access the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania’s Eviction Prevention Fact Sheets at: https://housingalliancepa.org/resources/eviction-diversion-issues-brief-why-focus-on-eviction/