Evictions in Houston: Two Months Into COVID-19

On March 18, 2020, the Texas Supreme Court put a temporary stay on eviction proceedings across the state. That temporary stay expires today, and there are no indictions that it will be extended.

While this stay prevented nearly all evictions during this two month period, it allowed landlords to continue filing eviction cases. This means that cases can accumulate in the system, and when the state moratorium expires, they can proceed.

If you want to extend this pause, please contact your Harris County Commissioner and ask them to follow the lead of Travis County.

During this time, we’ve been looking at eviction data pretty closely. For some of our clients, we’ve even been talking to landlords, tenants, and social service providers to understand their concerns right now and in the near term.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

There Was Significant Decline in Eviction Filings

Between March 19, 2019 and May 15, 2019, there were 10,027 eviction cases filed in Harris County Justice of the Peace Court.

During the same period in 2020 — which covers the Texas Supreme Court moratorium — there were 1,465 eviction cases filed. This represents an 85% drop in cases filed year over year.

chart showing year over year comparison of eviction filings in harris county
This chart shows the clear drop-off in eviction case filings starting in late March 2020 and continuing through the Texas Supreme Court evictions pause that is about to end.

It is too early to understand why the number of cases filed went down, but based on our conversations with landlords, tenants, and housing support providers, we suspect it is due to several reasons:

  • Overall slowdown of business activities due to COVID-19
  • Financial deals worked out with tenants
  • Leniency from property owners, investors, and banks
  • Short-term benefits for tenants, such as stimulus payments

But don’t let this 85% drop fool you: 1,465 eviction cases is quite a lot compared to the case volume of similar cities.

And if court volume “goes back to normal” — that is, the number of cases filed looks like it did in previous years — we will see thousands of new eviction cases filed next month.

Houston Landlords Subject to the Federal Moratorium Are Still Filing Eviction Cases

Starting on March 27, 2020, the Federal government enacted a rule to prevent property owners with a federally-backed mortgage loan from filing eviction cases for 120 days. This includes landlords who have loans with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, HUD, and others.

In Houston, there are over 1,000 multifamily properties that have a federally-backed mortgage, meaning that tens of thousands of tenants are subject to different and more renter-friendly rules than the ones enacted by the Texas Supreme Court.

For those tenants, the federal evictions moratorium lasts until late July, and their landlords cannot file an eviction case until it expires.

But we looked at the data. Since March 27, we found that 7.5% of the eviction cases filed for properties in the City of Houston have a federally-backed mortgage. In fact, some were filed as recently as last week.

This shouldn’t happen. Harris County JP Court must implement controls to screen and delay eviction cases from property owners with federally-backed mortgages. Not only will this ensure consistency with Federal regulations, but it will also immediately enforce the housing rights of hundreds of people.

Eviction Cases Filed by Properties With Federally-Backed Mortgages

This table includes cases filed after the federal moratorium was enacted on March 27 through May 17, 2020.
Case NumberCase File DateClaim AmountCase StatusComplex Name
2022001205202020-04-06410.0000DismissedBroadway Casa
2021001296342020-05-041654.0000ActiveBELLFORT VILLAGE APA..
2022001274762020-04-28464.0000ActiveBELLFORT VILLAGE APA..
2022001282022020-04-30725.0000ActiveBELLFORT VILLAGE APA..
2012001172672020-03-273836.9900ActiveThe Carlton
2052001282772020-05-010.0000ActiveHayden at Enclave
2011001304172020-05-07515.0000ActiveMAGNOLIA COVE II APA..
2011001304202020-05-07875.0000ActiveMAGNOLIA COVE II APA..
2011001304162020-05-07720.0000ActiveREGENCY CROSSING AP..
2011001279042020-04-30850.0000DismissedCreekwood Apartments
2072001173232020-03-30790.0000DisposedTHE WILCOX APARTMEN..
2072001173292020-03-30750.0000DisposedTHE WILCOX APARTMEN..
2072001173272020-03-30795.0000DisposedTHE WILCOX APARTMEN..
2072001173202020-03-301024.0000DisposedTHE WILCOX APARTMEN..
2072001173072020-03-30948.4100DisposedTHE WILCOX APARTMEN..
2072001172832020-03-30920.0000DisposedTHE WILCOX APARTMEN..
2072001173352020-03-301069.0000DisposedTHE WILCOX APARTMEN..
2072001173402020-03-30790.0000DisposedTHE WILCOX APARTMEN..
2072001172662020-03-30795.0000DisposedTHE WILCOX APARTMEN..
2072001173042020-03-30790.0000DisposedTHE WILCOX APARTMEN..
2072001172862020-03-30920.0000DisposedTHE WILCOX APARTMEN..
2072001172972020-03-301079.0000DisposedTHE WILCOX APARTMEN..
2072001172932020-03-30815.0000DisposedTHE WILCOX APARTMEN..
2041001186642020-04-01769.0000ActiveVANTAGE POINT
2072001271382020-04-281464.3700ActiveAmritta Apartments
2011001237032020-04-161520.0000ActiveThe Gallery Apartments
2071001171522020-03-271898.0000ActiveAshford Santa Fe Apart..
2011001249612020-04-211505.0000ActiveVentana Gardens
2011001249582020-04-211500.0000ActiveVentana Gardens
2011001249682020-04-211100.0000ActiveVentana Gardens
2011001249642020-04-211598.0000ActiveVentana Gardens
2052001275732020-04-291300.0000ActiveArbors on Westheimer
2052001275582020-04-291600.0000ActiveArbors on Westheimer
2052001275752020-04-291015.4100ActiveArbors on Westheimer
2012001174242020-03-30905.0000ActiveWoodcreek Of Northwes..
2012001174332020-03-30483.2300ActiveWoodcreek Of Northwes..
2012001173412020-03-30500.0000ActiveWoodcreek Of Northwes..
2041001256732020-04-231077.6800ActiveCarriage Place
2041001256772020-04-23837.0300ActiveCarriage Place
2041001256752020-04-231102.8700ActiveCarriage Place
2041001256712020-04-23802.8200ActiveCarriage Place
2041001256822020-04-23898.0600ActiveCarriage Place
2041001256672020-04-231081.3500ActiveCarriage Place
2041001256942020-04-231348.5800ActiveCarriage Place
2041001256662020-04-23924.4700ActiveCarriage Place
2041001256692020-04-23878.0600ActiveCarriage Place
2041001256912020-04-231131.4400ActiveCarriage Place
2041001256792020-04-23928.0600ActiveCarriage Place
2041001256652020-04-23902.0900ActiveCarriage Place
2041001256882020-04-231025.8900ActiveCarriage Place
2041001256832020-04-23853.0600ActiveCarriage Place
2041001256862020-04-231233.9400ActiveCarriage Place
2051001260422020-04-240.0000DisposedAshford Westchase Apar..
2051001207212020-04-070.0000DisposedAshford Westchase Apar..
2051001278992020-04-30640.0000Active2929 DUNVALE APARTM..
2051001275602020-04-29740.0000Active2929 DUNVALE APARTM..
2051001266872020-04-27740.0000Active2929 DUNVALE APARTM..
2051001266742020-04-271059.0000Active2929 DUNVALE APARTM..
2051001166922020-03-271300.0000ActiveWESTWOOD RIDGE APA..
2051001166882020-03-272085.0000ActiveWESTWOOD RIDGE APA..
2051001166902020-03-272189.0000ActiveWESTWOOD RIDGE APA..
2051001181072020-03-312713.4200ActiveCarrington Court
2072001220692020-04-141440.0000ActiveCrescent Place Apartme..
2072001220712020-04-141500.0000ActiveCrescent Place Apartme..
2072001220702020-04-141480.0000ActiveCrescent Place Apartme..
2072001271312020-04-281202.0000ActiveLudington Apartments
2072001271302020-04-281440.0000ActiveLudington Apartments
2041001340062020-05-131750.0000ActiveOne Camden Court
2052001190432020-04-02730.0000ActiveBrant Rock Apartments
2072001257632020-04-22nullActiveCULLEN PARK APARTME..
2072001257662020-04-22nullActiveCULLEN PARK APARTME..
2072001257672020-04-22nullActiveCULLEN PARK APARTME..
2072001257642020-04-22nullActiveCULLEN PARK APARTME..
2072001257702020-04-22nullActiveCULLEN PARK APARTME..
2072001257692020-04-22nullActiveCULLEN PARK APARTME..
2072001257682020-04-22nullActiveCULLEN PARK APARTME..
2021001339902020-05-134841.4300ActiveSETTLERS RANCH
2011001172902020-03-302706.0000ActiveCHAMPION FOREST APA..
2041001289092020-05-041904.0000ActiveMANSIONS AT HASTING..
2012001172682020-03-27792.0000ActiveM - CHELSEA SENIORS LP
2072001257842020-04-230.0000ActiveVALENCIA PLACE
2011001218062020-04-141200.0000DismissedThe Apex
2011001218002020-04-141250.0000DismissedThe Apex
2011001217992020-04-141205.0000DismissedThe Apex
2011001217972020-04-141250.0000DismissedThe Apex
2011001218032020-04-14nullDismissedThe Apex

There Is a Huge Need for Rental Assistance

Last week, the City of Houston partnered with BakerRipley to administer $15 million in rental assistance. The program required landlords to register and tenants to apply for relief. If approved, the program would pay the landlord directly on behalf of the tenant.

The program launched May 13 with a first-come, first-served prioritization. Over 17,000 people tried to access the site within the first hour. And after 90 minutes, all the funds were gone.

There are many valid criticisms about how the rules and administration of this rental assistance program. I believe that all of these organizations will get better at administration with time.

However, one thing is clear: the need for rental assistance is urgent and enormous.

There is Room for Innovation

Over the last two weeks, we have been investigating the evictions landscape of Montrose, Houston by talking with landlords, tenants, and social service providers. On behalf of the Montrose TIRZ, we wanted to understand what people are thinking about right now.

Generally, the landlords of Montrose have not yet seen the economic effects of COVID-19. Although some of their tenants have been laid off, one landlord said that they collected almost all of their rent on time.

From the tenants we spoke with, this could be due to the fact that Montrose residents are reasonably affluent and draw upon existing savings to stabilize their housing.

What can landlords do to ease the pain? There were several ideas that came to the surface in our conversations:

  • Defer payments to investors by one quarter, if possible. This eases the pressure of collecting rent immediately and provides more room to work out a payment plan with tenants.
  • Apply for forbearance. Having a mechanism to delay foreclosure buys valuable time as property owners and tenants figure out how to stabilize their relationship.
  • Sign up for rental assistance programs. Both the Harris County Eviction Diversion Pilot Program and the City of Houston COVID Rental Assistance Program require landlords to register and refer tenants.
  • Be proactive with tenants. Property owners have the ability to reach out to tenants in advance, and to provide social service referral information. Many of the tenants we spoke with had no idea that rental assistance programs existed.

What will we see over the next two months?

With the Texas evictions moratorium expiring, we expect to see a significant uptick in eviction cases filed and disposed. However, there may some mitigating factors, such as:

  • The economic impact of COVID-19 might lead property owners to try harder to keep existing tenants rather than find new ones.
  • Eviction case volume in Harris County has been at historic lows over the last two months. While the backlog of cases is alarming, it does not portend a region-wide rental housing disaster. Still, we can’t rule that out yet.
  • The impact of short-term stimulus payments to tenants and property owners will hopefully reduce the number of eviction cases in May and June.

Nevertheless, unless there is some type of government intervention, we expect eviction cases to increase throughout the month of May. We will continue to monitor filings through this crisis. If you have questions you’d like to answer, please let us know.

Jeff Reichman

Jeff is passionate about data. He founded January Advisors and Sketch City, and serves on the board of the League of Women Voters of Houston. Read his full bio on LinkedIn.