Should evictions be banned to stop hurting people’s feelings?
Some foreclosure and eviction cases can be heartbreaking. However, we live by rule of law in this country, and unless we want to start giving away real estate to those with the saddest story, these evictions must take place.
Property evictions cause severe emotional pain for the dispossessed. People develop strong emotional attachments to the place they call home, and losing that attachment suddenly is so painful that many well-meaning people believe evictions should be banned. People who support prohibiting evictions do not understand that evictions are essential to the operation of our housing system.
Eviction is both a threat and a consequence. People are only evicted from their homes if they fail to make the required payments. Renters are evicted if they fail to pay rent, and homeowners are evicted if they fail to pay their mortgages. The threat of eviction is often the only reason people make housing payments. Would anyone pay for housing if they could get it for free?
The threat of eviction is enough to convince most people to make timely payments, but the consequence of eviction must match the threat for the threat to motivate compliance. When the threat becomes empty, people quit paying and squat, as we witnessed millions of people do during the housing bust.
Evictions may seem heartless, but we have these laws in place for a reason. If occupancy was the only requirement for ownership, our entire system of property ownership and finance would cease to function, and thuggery would determine who got to live where. Most often people who are being evicted have made poor choices. They knew the potential consequences for their failure to make payments, yet they chose not to make payments.
Evictions may be sad events, but they are a necessary evil.
My family’s eviction story
Not all evictions are for failure to make timely payment. My grandmother’s blind sister was 82 years old when she was evicted from her paid-off family home for a highway construction project. True story.
Rather than wait a few more years for this ailing elderly blind woman to pass on in her lifelong home on the lake in Friendship, Wisconsin, the Department of Transportation decided it was time to straighten out a dangerous corner around the edge of the lake by wiping out my great-aunt’s home.
This incident was very sad, and my great-aunt died in a nursing home shortly thereafter emotionally devastated by the event. Her son kept the bitterness alive for years thereafter. I can’t help wondering why the State of Wisconsin didn’t wait until after her passing to complete this project.
Circumstances like that cause me to question if some evictions are better avoided or delayed.
The first time the sociologist Matthew Desmond rode along during an eviction, he was shocked by the suddenness of “seeing your house turn into not your house in seconds.”
“You see the mover reach past someone to turn on the lights without asking, then open the fridge, open the cupboards,” he recalled recently.
Touches of home are “obliterated instantly” and often just piled up on the curb. …
When anyone packs up and moves, whether voluntarily or not, the move is sudden. That doesn’t make it a social problem.
“We’ve tended to look through housing to things like neighborhoods or gentrification,” he said over lunch at a deli near Bronx Housing Court, where he was about to offer a reporter a tour. But the difficulty of finding and keeping a roof over one’s head — for many families in eviction court, rent consumes as much as 80 percent of their income, he writes — has become “not just a consequence of poverty, but a cause of poverty.” …
Excessive rent burdens is a problem. High rent burdens prevents people from saving money or spending on other goods and services. However, that problem has nothing to do with evictions, which are merely the consequence of failing to pay the rent or mortgage.
If the rent is too high, people can move to a less expensive rental, move in with others, or move out of the area. Nobody is trapped in a rental.
Mr. Desmond … doesn’t shrink from depicting less than sympathetic behavior by tenants, like the decision by Larraine, a 54-year-old woman who has just been evicted from the trailer park, to blow her monthly food stamps on a single home-cooked lobster dinner.
“I was so angry at Larraine,” he recalled, using stronger language. “I remember calling my wife and saying, ‘What do I do with this? …”
In an endnote, Mr. Desmond describes pressing Larraine for an explanation. The one she finally comes up with — “because I wanted to” — may not satisfy all readers.
While this woman’s decision making is atrocious, is it fair to be more upset with her because she lacks the intellectual capacity for rationalization? Just because someone can come up with a bogus justification for doing something selfish and stupid doesn’t make them any better.
But for the extreme poor, Mr. Desmond argues, bad decisions are a result of poverty, more than poverty is a result of bad decisions.
Let’s accept that his argument is true for a moment. Does that make the person trapped in poverty any less responsible for their bad decisions? What is the cure for this problem? Money?
“The difference between stable poverty and Larraine’s kind of poverty is so vast,” he said. “No amount of scrimping and saving is going to get her out.”
Her poverty is internal, and no amount of money will ever cure that. Abundance is as much a state of mind as it is a state of one’s bank account.
Squatters on my dime
While I was actively buying houses in Las Vegas, I evicted many people from their family homes. I feel no remorse, and I feel no need to justify or rationalize what I did. These people weren’t paying their mortgages, and they didn’t want to pay me rent after I bought the property, so they had to go. Was I supposed to let them live there for nothing?
In one property I purchased, the former owners squatted for over a year with an interesting legal move. They had the wife file for bankruptcy in her maiden name a few days after the foreclosure auction, and they put the property into the estate. Well, our search didn’t pick up the bankruptcy because it wasn’t in the owner’s name, so we began foreclosure proceedings. Late in the process, the bankruptcy attorney accuses us of harassment, and we had no idea what he was talking about.
Once we discovered the suit, we had to initiate our own suit to have the property removed from the bankruptcy proceedings. They didn’t own the property when they filed, so they couldn’t obtain protection from the bankruptcy court to stay there. If they had filed before the foreclosure, they would have had other rights, but if they had filed before the foreclosure, it would have shown up in a title search, and I wouldn’t have bid on the property.
The cost of all this legal maneuvering was expensive. I am not a bank. I can’t amend, extend, and pretend I am making money. I either sell quickly for a profit or I don’t profit.
Finally, a full year later, the squatters became a bit complacent, and they failed to send their attorney the $150 check to keep filing delay documents (we found the check on the counter when we got in). On the morning the courts approved our right to take possession, we went to the property, and nobody was home.
We had the locksmith change the locks while the police watched, and we had a moving truck waiting in the driveway. By noon, we had most of the house packed when the squatting former owner showed up. Needless to say, she was upset.
With the police still there to explain they were being forcibly evicted, the woman calmed down — a little. We arranged to have their possessions put in a storage unit for 30 days, which we paid for.
I could have filed suit against them for a year’s worth of unpaid rent on the house I owned, but my attorney said it would be costly to file, and since they didn’t have any assets, it was pointless. I wanted them to pay for the year they lived in my house, but when I considered my options, and when I considered the emotional price they paid when I got them out, I just let it go.