By Paul Arena
Rockford Apartment Association
Last week a fight at the Fairgrounds Housing Project was recorded by a person in the crowd and then the video was posted on social media. News media reported that the Rockford Housing Authority responded by stating that the individuals involved in the fight would be evicted. I have seen no report of the response by police. Were the people seen in the video that were violating the law charged with a crime?
The incident illustrates a contributing factor to why disruptive behavior is associated with rental property. If the renters who engage in minor criminal behavior are not held accountable by government then what deters them from again engaging in criminal conduct? In this situation, is eviction being used as the method of accountability rather than the criminal justice system?
Eviction is a legal procedure that provides a structure to end a business relationship. Just like divorce law provides a fair system to end a marriage, eviction law provides a fair system to end a contractual arrangement between a landlord and a tenant. The eviction laws were not intended to be a substitute for criminal justice.
To successfully get permission from the courts to terminate a contract and force a tenant to move, a landlord must prove the tenant did something wrong. The landlord can’t go to court and use second-hand evidence or hearsay that the tenant violated the lease. A landlord can personally testify that a tenant failed to pay rent but a landlord can’t use as evidence that they were told the tenant committed a crime. Just like in the criminal courts, landlords must conduct a trial and prove the criminal behavior occurred. For that reason removing tenants for behavior problems is very difficult.
When government delegates their responsibility to control crime onto landlords the result is often that nothing happens. If the tenant is not charged with a crime the landlord would have little chance of persuading the judge that the tenant committed a crime.
It gets even more complicated if the offender is only a member of the household, not a signer of the lease, because the offender will not be a party in the eviction action. This adds to the challenge of controlling behavior at rented property because without a criminal charge and no court record there is no information for future landlords to use in screening decisions to avoid behavior problems.
Relying on the eviction system instead of the criminal justice system only moves problem behavior to another neighborhood and does not address the behavior itself. The fact that our public policy relies on eviction as a remedy to problem behavior contributes to the disruptive environment around some rented property.
Keep this fact in mind when speaking with elected officials or public employees whose job it is to govern behavior and who suggest landlords should be the ones responsible to control their tenant’s behavior. Landlords have few options to control crime. Eviction is not a substitute for law enforcement.