Findings: Tenants

Poor Single Mothers Impacted the Most by Evictions: An Understudied Population of Vulnerable Households

Housing is an anchor for stability. According to the Homes for All Campaign (2014) of the Right to the City Alliance, post-foreclosure crisis, homeownership has fallen drastically, with the proportion of cost-burdened renters increasing substantially. Over the last three decades, once-neglected urban communities have begun to be revived. Yet, the return of investment capital to the city is pushing many low-income families out (Goetz et al., 2019).

We are living in a time when wages are stagnant, the cost of living is rising, and the disparity between the rich and the poor is unprecedented. As a result, the demand for affordable housing has skyrocketed, while the number of affordable units has declined. Even when affordable units are available, low-income communities of color are finding that the metrics for determining housing assistance eligibility, measured by HUD’s Area Median Income (AMI), includes large metropolitan higher-income geographies that do not reflect the affordability needs of the lowest-income households. As a result, more people than ever are paying more than 30% of their income in rent, risking higher debt while trying to sustain their families and knowingly living one crisis away from homelessness. The “hidden housing problem” leading to housing instability has been and continues to be an increasing number of evictions taking place throughout the country silently, yet violently disrupting the lives of millions (Hartman and Robinson, 2003).     

Single Black mothers face the highest risk of eviction in the United States. Matthew Desmond's 2016 book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City brought this national crisis from the margins to the center of public discourse. From 2013-2015, approximately 50% of renter households in North Minneapolis experienced at least one eviction filing, a rate that is almost 25% higher than the 55402 zip code which experienced the next highest rate of eviction filings in the city of Minneapolis (Minneapolis Innovation Team, 2016). This disparity is particularly relevant given that these two zip codes contain just 8% of all rental units in the city.  North Minneapolis is a community manufactured to contain undesirable populations through housing discrimination, decades of urban disinvestment, unfair lending practices, and disproportionate evictions; the situation has become further exacerbated by the rise in distressed property investment. Single Black women with children living below the poverty line lead more than 60% of the Black households in North Minneapolis. As a result, 67% of residents are on some kind of county and federal government assistance, living one financial crisis away from losing their homes (Wheeler, 2012).

This report moves beyond the limiting confines of quantitative analysis to the understudied realities of mostly poor single mothers to understand from their perspective how and why close to 50% of renter households in North Minneapolis experienced at least one eviction filing (Minneapolis Innovation Team, 2016). The in-depth interviews that CURA’s research team conducted with 68 tenants were used to:

  • identify the conditions that often lead to housing instability and eviction;
  • gain a clearer understanding of these tenants’ housing composition and stability over time;
  • understand their various income streams and the networks of support that tenants rely on for survival.

These findings aim to better inform the development of targeted interventions, needs, and policy prescriptions for those most negatively impacted by evictions.

Tenant Profile

Tenant Profile
Source: The Illusion of Choice interviews and intake data, CURA 2018

The tenant findings are arranged to examine five major themes: (1) living under a state of constant crisis decision making; (2) barriers to gaining access to safe, dignified, quality affordable housing; (3) the cost of the courts; (4) interrogating nonpayment of rent: the politics of landlords retaliation; and (5) informal evictions. The five themes are examined in separate sections, each beginning with a short case study followed by the emerging concepts, as evidenced by the actual statements made by tenants in their interviews (throughout, names of interviewees have been changed to protect their identities). Finally, we end with a summation of how the themes examined in context relate back to how and why eviction trends are taking place in North Minneapolis from the perspective of tenants. 

Living Under a State of Constant Crisis Decision Making

Melanie is a 33-year-old Black female with three children. When she reached out to Mahmood Khan for a place to live, she knew that as long as the renter had the money, this landlord would rent to them without the need for an exhaustive background check. While living in this property, the landlord filed multiple evictions on Melanie and her family, yet Melanie remained living in the property. The property had been turned over to a local faith-based nonprofit that assumed the rental licenses after the city revoked them from the former landlord. Living in a constant state of crisis management results in landlords like this being Melanie’s only real “choice.”

After a fight with her family members, Melanie and her kids found themselves living on the streets. She reached out to Khan, whom she had rented from before, to locate a rental property for her, her kids, her mom, and her mom’s boyfriend. At the time, Khan said he only had one place big enough, but it was not move-in ready. The place was actually boarded up and abandoned when they moved in, with a family of feral cats living in it.

Khan offered her the abandoned home and verbally committed to reducing the rent if Melanie removed the garbage and painted. Melanie and her family cleaned up the home, but they never received a rent credit as promised, which would become indicative of the type of relationship they would have during Melanie’s time there. Although this was not Melanie’s first choice of housing, she was grateful since her family would have otherwise been homeless. Melanie stated that she thought Khan was a good person for helping people to not be homeless, but she acknowledged that he was also the type of person to take advantage of someone on the verge of homelessness.

At the time of signing the lease, Melanie’s main source of income was coming from SSI, because she was epileptic and suffered from seizures. She also braided hair for extra cash. Melanie never received a signed lease agreement from Khan until she needed it to apply for Hennepin County emergency assistance. After receiving the first lease, Melanie didn’t sign another until 2.5 years later, when she again only needed one to apply for emergency assistance. Melanie reported that Khan would lie on county forms to ensure that he received his rent money, even lying about how much she actually owed or paid each month in rent. According to Melanie, Hennepin County emergency assistance would deny a person for the smallest things, required years of documentation, and would then simply refer individuals to Community Action to pay for light and gas bills. To get access to Community Action assistance, Melanie reported needing a denial letter from Hennepin County.

Prior to the evictions, Melanie said her relationship with her landlord started to get rough when she began requesting multiple repairs, such as heating, plumbing, toilet, mold, and bathtub. The reason Khan filed an eviction on her was because she called the city of Minneapolis Inspections Department and began withholding rent. Melanie stated that when Khan did try to fix things, he would find and pay people off the street to play handyman and repairs were never done correctly. The heating and plumbing were bad and the toilet never stopped running. Melanie needed a door and Khan came in and put in a door that was too short, so they applied plywood to make it fit. The tub always looked rusted and moldy and leaked into the kitchen. There were multiple door knobs missing. Melanie said everything was good until she started making these repair requests. She believes that her withholding rent due to the housing conditions and her call to Inspections spurred her evictions.

Even after Khan filed two separate evictions for nonpayment of rent, Melanie chose to stay in the property, because she didn’t have anywhere else to go. She knew she needed a landlord who was willing to work with her, as she had limited financial resources. Khan wouldn’t charge late fees if she communicated with him, which Melanie said was helpful for a single mom with her income.

In court Melanie consulted with a Legal Aid attorney about a strategy for her hearing, but she represented herself. She was often frustrated after her court appearances, because they would order Khan to make necessary repairs before collecting rent, but he would never fully complete them. To avoid another filing, Melanie still had to pay rent.

Melanie stated that she was completely unaware that Khan was being investigated by the city and later that his license had actually been taken. Days before Khan’s rental license was taken, he came to Melanie’s home with the sheriff to collect the back rent of $3,500 that she had withheld. Melanie had not received an eviction notice prior to the sheriff arriving but later understood that Khan was attempting to get his rent before his rental licenses were officially revoked and he could no longer collect rent from her directly.

Melanie was stuck in the property waiting anxiously to see how the new property managers would deal with the problems that Khan left behind. To her, it was clear that the new property managers were struggling, because as she stated, they were “in the red because they're trying to help, but they don't have the funds to help, so they're actually kind of in a Mahmood Khan state, right now. They want to collect rent so that they can do stuff, but we're still having to live in these conditions while you guys collect the rent.”

This story followed some unfortunate common narrative conventions of other tenants interviewed. Melanie and her family found themselves moving under a state of duress, living on the streets, and in dire need of shelter. She reached into her network of poverty to identify a landlord who would rent to her even with a checkered past.

So I been knowing Mahmood Khan for going on 10 years, now, and I met him through my ex-fiance, so he had rented from Mahmood for years, and he knew that Mahmood Khan would just rent you a place without any questions. (Black female, 33 years old)

Melanie, like the majority of the tenants interviewed, is locked out of the traditional housing market and must rely on what tenants call “slumlords” to ensure that she and her family have a roof over their heads. She was offered a dilapidated property and out of desperation took it. It was not until Melanie began to make multiple requests for repairs that her landlord became a stickler for receiving rent payments on time. Whereas prior to her requests, Melanie’s landlord would work with her, he had now filed multiple evictions. Melanie’s landlord took her rent money for a vacant and boarded-up property infested with rodents, but when she began to demand safe, quality housing, as a form of discipline, he began to file evictions. As a result, Melanie felt forced to stay in place. In the end, her landlord, unlike many others, had his licenses revoked for his inhumane practices. However, Melanie paid a price as well. She was left to fear what she had tried to avoid by moving into the property—homelessness.

Choices for the tenants featured in this report are mediated by the options available to them when living at the bottom of the social, economic, and political stratum of society—a cyclical trap from which those with material privilege often benefit. These mostly working-class and poor single Black mothers are forced to navigate the nation’s most undesirable and neglected housing markets. They are judged for not working hard enough while being forced to work in the low-wage sector and be the primary breadwinners for their families. Choice is an illusion when you must make decisions under a state of duress, mediated by those with more power over your material life than you often have. Survival, rather than personal and familial growth and advancement, is at the center of your thinking.

The Illusion of Choice

In the interviews tenants expressed having to constantly make decisions under extreme distress. Their “choices” were constrained by the context under which they were forced to move into the property they were now evicted from and the economics of maintaining a household with limited resources.

Only 4 out of 68 tenants selected the home they were evicted from because they actually desired to live in the property; they were forced to choose the location because of homelessness or desperation. In particular, of the 68 tenants interviewed, 29 said that the property from which they were evicted was their first choice of housing, and 39 declaratively stated that it was not their first choice of housing. Of the 29 that stated that the property they were evicted from was their first choice of housing, 25 explained that in actuality it was the only choice available; because they were homeless, they selected the property out of desperation, or they choose the property because no one else would take their Section 8 voucher.

Interviewed tenants
Source: The Illusion of Choice interviews and intake data, CURA 2018


Not My First Choice of Housing, My Only Choice of Housing: Select Illusion of Choice Quotations

  • Couch hopping
  • Living in a shelter

It was just somewhere to get out of the shelter honestly. (Black female, 31 years old)

I was homeless living with someone and I asked them what was their tenant, who they rent from, can they give me the information. I actually got it from a friend/roommate at the time. (Native American female, 42 years old)

We were homeless before that though. Living from place to place. (Black female, 30 years old)

Yes. Well we were homeless prior to that, 2 years. For 2 years we were bouncing around from family members to friends' house. It was something like, he'll take us, let's take it, and we knew we couldn't afford it. (Native American female, 35 years old)

Yeah, I had to move quickly, prior to this I was staying with my mom and she got into a situation where she couldn't keep her house. (Black female, 29 years old)

Yeah, cause normally you suppose to have a couple of places to pick from, but I didn't. I only had that place and pretty much had no other choice. If I didn't get that, I would had to go to a shelter anyway. (White female, 43 years old)

No, staying with my ex-boyfriend's mom but we had been evicted from that Saint Louis Park apartment so we had already been staying with his mom for 2 weeks at that time. (White female, 28 years old)

Well, when you're a single mom, there is no bigger stress than being homeless. Even when you choose to leave, it's still stressful to look for housing and it's so scarce. It just, it's a stressor. It's a really big stressor when you're a single mom and aren't sure where your kids are going to move to. (Black female, 48 years old)

I was homeless for about 3 months, before I found property. It was somewhere where they would let me rent. And actually I found that through the veterans VA. So, I got an apartment at the VA. I was there for about 7 months before I found the senior housing. An experience I would like to soon forget. (Black male, 66 years old)

But it was more of an urgent thing. We had to leave, we wanted to leave my brother’s house and get our own stuff. So it was more of an urgent thing. We didn't think about it at the moment because we didn't know the true concept of everything, until we actually got into the shelter. Then once we got into the shelter, they took all the money from us. (Black male, 28 years old)

Because we were in a shelter and...We did roofing jobs all over and that was one of his houses. (Native American female, 48 years old)

Selected out of Desperation

  • Lack of affordable housing options
  • Owner sold property
  • Former property was condemned
  • Death in the family
  • Paying too much to stay in the shelter
  • Crime, violence, or drugs in the neighborhood or at home forced a move
  • Feared homelessness

Yes, at the time because my landlord where I currently was residing on [address], she sold her house. (Black female, 30 years old)

I live[d] at this place that got condemned and I have nowhere to go. (White male, 53 years old)

It wasn't my first choice because of the location. It was North Minneapolis. I didn't wanna move to North Minneapolis because crime rate. And yeah, basically that has everything to do with location. The reason why I did move is because I was living over south and I was paying $2,000 per month for a house. And the rent would just skyrocket. It was just unaffordable. (Black male, 29 years old)

How I got the place was she [mother of my children] committed suicide in there. She only had it for like a week and a half. When I got there, she committed suicide that night, so me and my oldest daughter found her. Then I didn't want to leave, so I asked the landlord if I could switch it over to my name. He agreed with that. (Native American male, 35 years old)

It wasn't my first was because I had an eviction on my background from years ago where certain areas, certain landlords wasn't trying to meet me. Then, once they see I have a, you have an eviction, they automatically judge you off of that. But it wasn't my first choice because it was, the rent and stuff, the amount of the rent that was due. I felt like we couldn't afford it, and we pretty much took it out of desperation cause we were paying so much to stay in shelter that we were like, we might as well get this place. (Black female, 35 years old)

Basically, I lived in St Paul, with the same landlord. That place was worse than this place up north. The carpet was stained and all that. It was bad. But, I got shot at while I was pregnant. I was in the car where me and my kids were at. We don't know anybody at St Paul. We just came from White Castle and we were eating. I was talking on the phone, and I heard a boom. Anyway, luckily my landlord was there. So, it was like, okay, you can't live here. It's not safe. But, there was a lot of drug stuff going on downstairs. It was a duplex. He was like, “I got this opening on Bernard. If you could live there, just move your stuff in the next 2 days.” I went to go see it the next day, and then we moved to north Minneapolis. (Black female, 55 years old)

Naw, it ain’t where I first one to live. It was more of I said me to have a roof over me and my children's' head. And I'm a single African male, and I never had ever rented on my own. And this man was willing to rent to me. Me and my kids needed a place to live because ya know, people play dirty tricks. So they figure if you butt naked, they can abuse and use you. So instead of having me and my kids homeless...He didn't hesitate. He gave me the apartment. (Black male, 55 years old)

I went on Housing Link, searched up for homes...looking for the bedrooms I needed in the price range. And I did come across [Frequent Filer]. And word of mouth, and throughout the community, I've heard bad things. He's known as a slumlord. And I did know someone prior that rented from him, and was able to know some of the things they went through. But against my better judgment, to not wanting to be out a place and homeless and between moving, I took the first thing. It was like a desperate situation. It was desperate, and it came down to whoever gave him the deposit first got the place. (Biracial female, 45 years old)

Well, because we was currently staying in a hotel [because she had been evicted from a former property in North] and it was expensive. We was there for 2 months...$350 a week. (Black female, 29 years old)

Because I was having a hard time finding affordable housing. Me and my daughters have been searching for 2 months. I couldn't was getting scary. It was getting ready to get cold out. So I knew I had to get in somewhere. So, the first thing that came to me that looked presentable, I accepted…You get put in desperate situations where you have to take a place, even though you don't know nothin' about it. (Black female, 45 years old)

I was on the bus one day and I seen one of my partners, I was staying in the rooming house, you just rent rooms, paying $500 a month, sharing a house with eight other people. They was using drugs, everything and I wasn't comfortable there. (Black male, 60 years old)

Because of circumstance, and because of finances. Actually, moving into that property was my first rental experience as a young adult in Minneapolis. I had rented from several different properties in St. Paul, and I pretty much had exhausted all of my resources in Ramsey County because of also bad rental history and things of that nature. My life just brought me to Minneapolis and I knew that I would have a better rental opportunity because of the North Side and what I knew basically would slide rental criteria wise. (Black female, 31 years old)

No One Else Would Take My Section 8 Voucher

  • Voucher would not transfer, because of felony
  • Looking for a 3- to 4-bedroom with Section 8 Voucher left few options
  • Section 8 voucher was going to expire so I needed to “use it or lose it”

It was because of my felony. It was like, “Well, you need to wait this many years before you can come up here [to Minneapolis from Duluth] with your Section 8.” (Black female, 41 years old)

I was kind of unhappy. I actually started looking at different properties to see if I could move somewhere else, but with me having Section 8 and looking for the amount of rooms that I need, three to four bedrooms, there are no, there's just no properties that I feel comfortable with moving into, shall I say. There are probably properties, but they're all really slumlords. (Black female, 37 years old)

I was in a rush, because I had Section 8 at the time, so I needed to put it on something. Yeah. Yep. As fast as I could get it, or they were gonna take the voucher. (Black female, 38 years old)

Sixty-eight percent (46) of tenants interviewed stated that they often had to decide between paying rent or fulfilling some other financial obligation, which most commonly included paying light and water bills or a car note, or buying food and items for children such as clothes, shoes, and school supplies.

Most of the months living there for the whole duration I was there. It was always, how am I going to rob Peter to pay Paul. I have $1,300 and $1,000 of it has to go to rent, so what am I going to do with these other $350 between transportation, food, clothing that I need for us, household supplies, personal care, anything like that. It was very scarce. (Black female, 31 years old)

illusion of choice - 3
Source: The Illusion of Choice interviews and intake data, CURA 2018

Approximately 94% of the tenants interviewed stated that they moved into the property they were evicted from under a state of duress, and some even acknowledged taking on monthly rent amounts that far exceeded their capacity, just to have a roof over their heads. An additional 68% stated that while living in the property they were evicted from, they struggled on a weekly, if not daily, basis to provide family necessities such as food and clothes and barely kept their heads above water. When tenants’ basic physiological needs like food, shelter, water, and sleep are in a constant state of flux, they are never able to escape survival mode. They move from crisis to crisis, weighing the consequences of each decision, most of which are made only to buy more time. Many tenants ended up receiving multiple evictions and choosing to stay in place out of survival and a lack of alternative options, whereas others we interviewed were no longer in place and became homeless, once again restarting that cyclical trap.

  • At the time of the interview, 71% (48) were no longer living where they were evicted from, while 29% (20) were still living in the place where they experienced the eviction filing.
  • Of the 71% of tenants who were no longer living where they were evicted from, 58% (28) were homeless.
  • Of those 28 tenants who became homeless after eviction, 31% (15) were in a shelter, 15% (7) were couch surfing with family or friends, and 12% (6) were staying in their car or a motel or living on the street.
  • 28% (19) of the 68 tenants interviewed reported receiving some type of housing subsidy, including 17% (12) Section 8 voucher holders and 10% (7) public housing residents; in a tight rental market, voucher holders face barriers to housing choice.
illusion of choice - 2
Source: The Illusion of Choice interviews and intake data, CURA 2018

Multiple Filings: Living in the Place You Were Evicted From

Multiple filings, or serial filings (Immergluck et al., 2019), are used as a punishment tactic, but they do not always result in a tenant vacating the home. Often multiple filings actually become a barrier to moving. They keep tenants in place, literally making it almost impossible to find another suitable place to live. In the end, if given the choice, most tenants choose to stay in place and deal with the inconsistent and often threatening context to ensure their family has a roof over their heads no matter how compromising the situation has been. Approximately 29% (20) of the 68 tenants interviewed were living in the place they were evicted from, with about a third (7) of those tenants experiencing multiple eviction filings from the same landlord. In total, over 10% (7) of all tenants interviewed were still in place after multiple evictions.

Regardless of the outcome, 29% (20) of the 68 tenants interviewed received multiple eviction actions from the same landlord; 25% (5) out of those tenants lived in properties managed or owned by frequent filers identified by the Minneapolis Innovation Team’s (2016) report.

He's the type of renter where he has a month-to-month lease. So, if something were to go wrong, that's his leverage of being able to give a tenant 30 days’ notice to leave and he can just start the process over again and if there is damages, he's keeping that deposit. And so, it's really a good thing for him. (Black female, 31 years old)

This tenant, similar to other tenants with multiple filings from one landlord, reported that she had received multiple threats of eviction before the landlord eventually filed. Most landlords who utilize the month-to-month strategy look at it as a tool to mitigate their own risk. However, the differential power relationship and verbal threats of eviction through the use of a month-to-month lease are used to control and discipline tenants, most of whom are stuck in constant survival mode mediated by someone with the power of property ownership. Twenty-two percent (15) of tenants interviewed reported a lease length of month-to-month, with almost half (7) reporting multiple filings. Two tenants reported multiple threats of eviction actions, however in the end, the landlord only filed one.

Receiving Multiple Filings: Select Illusion of Choice Quotations

Multiple Eviction Filings

  • Frequent threats from landlords about late payments
  • One day late landlord files an eviction
  • Made a payment agreement, date had not yet arrived, and landlord still filed an eviction
  • I paid what I owed in court and did not know I still had evictions on my record so I am stuck in place
  • Late on rent, notified the landlord, and he was not willing to work with me

Maybe every 3 to 6 months, I had at least a threat or an official letter written by him letting me know that an eviction process or something of that nature would be beginning or occurring. It was very frequently to the point where I always felt like I would be at the verge of being homeless living there if I had said or did something to protect myself or something of that nature. Or, if God forbid, life happened and something did occur and that money was not going to be on the first, I was like, this is the month that we're getting kicked out because rent is getting paid the 14th not the first. (Black female, 31 years old)

We’re month to month now. And rent needs to be in by the eighth. Well we sent in the rent, and the rent was in by the ninth. They had, they received it, but they never cashed it, and it was in the ninth instead of the eighth. And then that's when they filled another eviction notice. (East Asian male, 34 years old)

Well, I only had three at the moment, but you know, with him, he got me two extra [evictions] more, and then the three that I had was past 7 years ago, past so many years ago, and then I get two fresh new ones in the same year. I didn't even know he could do that. Like when you settle, I thought we, the UD and everything, and I gotta still keep me getting me a UD, and I settled with you, and I paid off. And I'm still staying here. (Black female, 27 years old)

Yeah, the very first one I would say he filed around September and I just got there late June. I'd only been there a good 2 months, July and August and here's September. I was late because we were waiting on my significant other’s check to clear. He'd just done a new project and it was gonna take a while and I had told him [landlord] this. He just act like he could not wait and he went and filed the eviction and we ended up coming to court. I think I brought half the money that day and then I made a payment arrangement with him for the rest, 'cause I'm like, “You know what, you already filed it, we ain't going nowhere. I'll get it expunged, I'm not worried about it. You just did that trying to hold me here, I know what your game is." (Biracial female, 48 years old)

Housing Subsidies: Crisis Decision Making Under State Support

North Minneapolis hosts almost 20% of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority’s (MPHA) public housing units, with approximately 8,000 individuals and/or families waiting to secure housing with MPHA. Additionally, as one of the diminishing number of neighborhoods in Minneapolis with affordable housing, the community provides the potential for Section 8 voucher holders as well as Group Residential Housing (GRH) program use.  

  • 28% (19) of the 68 tenants interviewed reported receiving some type of housing subsidy, including 17% (12) Section 8 voucher holders and 10% (7) public housing residents; in a tight rental market, voucher holders face barriers to housing choice.
  • Based on data provided by the MPHA, 71% of eviction action filings between 2015 and 2017 resulted in paid rent with the tenant remaining in place. In alignment with this rate, five out of the seven (71%) MPHA public housing residents who were interviewed remained in the same home after experiencing the filing.
  • Of the seven public housing residents we interviewed, all were older adults (55+) who live(d) in high-rise buildings that accommodate seniors and those with disabilities. All seven stated that their financial circumstances make it such that the MPHA was their only option despite the fact that their buildings were severely mismanaged.

Despite the provision of subsidies, tenants living in MPHA public housing units lamented the role of building managers, who had ultimate control over their ability to remain in place. 

The MPHA Severely Mismanaged: Select Illusion of Choice Quotations

Severely Mismanaged

  • Tenants feeling infantilized
  • Unsanitary living conditions
  • Constant management turnover
  • Tenants feeling unsafe
  • Tenants mistreated by management
  • Tenants’ health conditions worsened while living in property

Then I've just turned 63. I've had a birthday this past Sunday, and these people here treat you like you're kids, and nobody likes that here. No one. This is the way they talk to you all the time. You've got to do this. You've got to do that. It's really aggravating. (Black male, 63 years old)

All right, now I had bed bugs. How'd you like to wake up in the morning with over 300 bed bugs crawling on you? All right, then I had spiders. I was bit on my hand by a spider and my finger swelled up like that. And, they had to do a double surgery on my finger. If I'd had been a diabetic they'd have had to cut my finger off. All right, I had bed bugs, spiders, gnats, roaches, and mice. Okay? And, wasn't none of them helping me pay rent. Okay? (Black male, 55 years old)

And then there was one time I was doing the laundry. And one resident asked me, “Why did you move here?” I said, “Why not?” I said, “It's very cheap and I can afford it.” They said, “Everybody who moves in here gets very sick.” I said, “What?” I said, “It doesn't make any sense.” “Believe me, you'll see.” And I got very, very sick since then. Maybe after a couple of months, started with my heart attack. Then I acquired diabetes. And then I have osteoarthritis. I also acquired fibromyalgia, which the doctor told me there's no cure for it. (East Asian female, 66 years old)

I'd have to say, its 200 units in there. It's a lot of different personalities that clash and stuff. A lot of little different things. And then you've got your dope dealers running in and out. They try to do what they can for the security, but the people living there was letting them in. It was a little scary situation for somebody my age, getting on up there in age. (Biracial female, 58 years old)

Oh man, it was like I was getting scolded like a child. I think she [former property manager] was smiling. I could tell that she was smiling because what she does is when the people go to eviction court, she has movers come in and take all your stuff out and you come back to nothing and a locked door and that's what I was fearing. That's why I was trying to box up all my stuff. (Native American female, 64 years old)

All of the tenants we interviewed, whether or not they were MPHA residents, had come to accept housing that is often not safe and is of lesser quality, because they lack the resources and/or have a checkered past. As a result, they are subject to predatory housing practices that often come in the form of multiple eviction filings and mistreatment by housing managers, which then severely impacts what available choices they have to remedy their situation. The illusion of choice framework presented in this report highlights what it means when your state of being is mediated by an individual or institution with more power than you have over the options available to you. From the perspective of tenants, private landlords and MPHA mismanagement have left them far from stable, rather they are simply able to stay afloat as they mediate the next crisis.

Barriers to Gaining Access to Safe, Dignified, Quality Affordable Housing

Homeless shelter
photo by Nikki McComb

Jasmine is a 28-year-old Black mother of three who is the sole source of income for her family. During her third  pregnancy she had to reduce her hours at work, and she found it increasingly challenging to pay her rent on time. Ultimately, this led to an eviction filing. Jasmine worked with the property manager’s lawyer to come up with a payment plan in court, but at the time the payment was due, she was $100 short. The sheriff came to remove her from the property. Jasmine and her children bounced around in motels until settling into a shelter.

When Jasmine located the property in question, she was in a rush to find a place, because she and her two children at the time had been living with a friend for about 2 months. At the time of signing the lease, Jasmine’s primary source of income was work as a vocabulary specialist in a local elementary school.

Jasmine encountered a number of barriers in her attempt to maintain safe, quality, and affordable housing. First, she had a light bill that carried over from her previous rental property because she had not called to turn off the service. She sought out emergency assistance. Applying was hard and kind of discouraging, because the woman Jasmine worked with was rude and chastised her for not knowing that she needed to call and shut off the service herself. Jasmine said after 30 days, she called emergency assistance, because she still had not received an update about the status of her application. The worker told her it was denied. Jasmine explained that she was now living without any lights, so the worker put a rush on it and got the lights back on within 2 weeks.

Second, Jasmine stated that she felt discriminated against because of her family structure and race. When maintenance came over, the tenor and tone with which they addressed her children was hostile, particularly toward her Black son. Jasmine got pregnant while living at the property and was placed on bedrest by her doctor multiple times. She had to reduce her hours at work, causing her to be short $200 on her rent. Once she was behind, the management company harassed her via phone and email. Overall, the management company was cold and uncompromising, telling Jasmine that it was her fault that she got pregnant. Jasmine stated that she felt like they were treating her like a “dumb Black girl.” Eventually she went against her doctor’s orders and went back to work out of fear of being evicted. As a result of the stress her baby had to be delivered early.

Jasmine was behind only 1 month of rent when the property management company filed an unlawful detainer. At Housing Court, she agreed to pay $1,000 by the following week because she would be getting her next paycheck. Instead, she gave them $900, as her hours were less than she thought they would be. The property manager said that it wasn’t good enough. Since Jasmine had violated the payment arrangement by being $100 short, they called the sheriff to have her removed. At that time, Jasmine was 7 months’ pregnant with two kids. She simply complied with the sheriff because she did not want to give birth in jail or have her kids taken away. Jasmine ended up homeless and was paying to live in hotels when the baby was delivered early, and they eventually ended up in a shelter.

Jasmine moved out of the property in January of 2018. Since then, she has received a bill from the property managers stating that legally they have the right to charge her the 4 months of rent remaining on her original lease. They now claim she owes them close to $7,000 even though Jasmine had been removed from the property and their relationship was severed. She only learned this information after calling the company, trying to recoup her deposit.

This story provides an in-depth, nuanced analysis of how the moral construction of poverty frames how the majority of landlords we interviewed view many of their tenants: they locate the causes of poverty in the perceived poor character of the individual and ignore the racialized social, economic, and political structures under which those individuals exist and how our free-market thinking reproduces these causes (see “Landlord Findings”).

Jasmine, like many tenants, identified racial discrimination often couched in the fear of young Black boys and landlords feeling emboldened enough to treat tenants like “children” by demonizing tenant decisions. Some property owners and managers feel this is their right, and some feel entitled to express and enforce disciplinary tactics, because ownership has always been directly connected to the right to define and police the morality of others. When owners use the power of their assets to discipline a tenant, they have predefined a tenants’ worth and value. When Jasmine was told that it was her fault for becoming pregnant, then later was threatened with an eviction, she was forced to neglect her health and the health of her child and return to work. She was left to mediate one crisis after another, because the owner did not respect her or her family structure. Jasmine, like a majority of the tenants interviewed, feels that all landlords care about is making a profit. Few tenants described having an actual relationship with their landlord or property manager, where they even felt comfortable being honest about the challenges they were having navigating a system that provided them with few choices.

Barriers to Housing: The Impact of a Tenant’s Background

Sixty-two percent (42) of tenants said that they faced barriers to securing safe and affordable quality housing due their identity or family structure. Of those 62% (42) interviewed, the top two reasons named for those barriers were race or nationality 36% (15) and criminal background history of themselves or of a family member 31% (13).

Barriers to safe and affordable housing 1
Source: The Illusion of Choice interviews and intake data, CURA 2018

Race and Criminal Background as Barriers to Housing: Select Illusion of Choice Quotations

Discriminatory Practices

  • Race or nationality leads to unfair treatment or questioning
  • Criminal background: people automatically judge you
  • Being a single Black mother, we are seen as uneducated
  • No one wants Black kids, especially Black boys, in their property
  • Forced to North Minneapolis and denied other locations by the shelters, because I was Black

Being an African American/Puerto Rican woman, I'm just looked at in some people's eyes as the lowest of the low. You know? And he showed me that…And he sent me a text message one time, and I'll never forget. Going through this court situation, and he said, “Can I ask you a question?” And I'm texting, and I'm like you know, [landlord] I'm at work. “Is it an emergency?” And he said, “I just wanna know why these Black people die so young.” And so I called him and I was a little upset, and I was like, “You know, I don't quite understand what that has to do with our tenant/landlord relationship.” (Black female, 36 years old)

I had a felony on my record. Now it's a misdemeanor. So it's for assault on a police officer from 2014 but it's still stops me from even getting jobs at places. (Black female, 39 years old)

Just being a single Black mother and it's my daughter. I think we come off as very vulnerable and uneducated in knowing our rights. I think that then with the landlord, aka a slumlord, that I was dealing with because they were focused on the dollar amount and that I had the funds that they didn't care. So, it was just like, “Great move in here.” (Black female, 30 years old)

There was, because Housing Hub harassed me. They didn't care. They didn't care that I was a single mom. Eventually I felt like I was being treated like a dumb Black girl, because the man started, “You should know this. You should have a way to get money. It's not our fault. You shouldn't got pregnant." (Black female, 28 years old)

Yeah. He [landlord] came to the house, and I wasn't there. My kids called me and said, “Mom, he got a gun on the side of him." (Black female, 42 years old)

Nobody wants Black males, Black teenage boys living in their property. Because they think the first thing they gonna do is be gang banging, and attract more kids. One thing they are right on, they do attract other kids, but you don't necessarily mean kids is gonna be gang banging. And I like to say I'm around, I know where they at and what they're doing. (Black female, 60 years old)

I tried to help my daughter get a place because I have grandkids, and she was actually at the Huntingtons and I was turned down because of an old criminal record. Because the way the law's set up, it's like inherently...if BCA [Bureau of Criminal Apprehension] only get in this apartment, they go back 10, 15 years. So that's how I was able to land, get a place here. But in the real world, when I put in an application, it's denied based on...that was in '79 when I got my criminal record. And they turned me down last year. (Biracial female, 58 years old)

But the more challenging thing has been an African American male raising two developed mentally children. With mental issues. Emotional issues. And that's the challenge. I get to meet people that can open up they minds and visualize the struggle that I have as a parent and an African American male, the disadvantage. It's not a disadvantage to me. But it's a disadvantage to the ones that can't visualize, open up their minds and say hey where's the support systems for people like us? (Black male, 55 years old)

Being Black. I feel like they keep putting us over North and we don't wanna be here...A bunch of places in over South, a bunch of places in Uptown, a bunch of places in different areas that we've got approved, but this [in North Minneapolis] is the only one they pay for us. (Black male, 28 years old)

Yeah. People see that and they automatically label you, judge you. There are automatic disqualifiers for most of these places when you tell them, I'm looking for a place and they say we do a criminal background check and this and this and this. And unlawful detainers and you're off the list. Period. They're not trying to hear your particular situation and if moving forward, because now I have a Section 8 voucher, so I can definitely afford rent, but no one wants to let me in the door in the first place. (Black male, 51 years old)

And so when I would go meet a private owner, like him for instance, they'd be all gung ho and they liked the job and they like the credit and they like everything and then they'd meet and they realize that...because honestly, sometimes when I'd apply for places I'd use my middle name which is Kendra, so I could get to the point of getting an interview but then of course they see what they see and then... (Black female, 29 years old)

Yes. Me being Black is always a barrier. I don't care what nobody say, just being an ethnicity of color. I don't care if you're Puerto Rican, Somalian, whatever, it's gonna bring barriers to you just because...Like my old landlord, he has 90 properties. All of these people know he a crook. Section 8 know he a crook. Why y'all keep letting him lease to people? Why is that okay? If y'all see these horror stories of people, why do y'all keep putting people in the same position to be messed over like that? So I feel like it's the system working against Black people or people of color. Because if it's not, why...I know I'm not the only person that voice my opinion about this. It's other people, our opinions just get shuffled under the table and that's not fair. And that's why people don't like to speak out because it don't do nothing for a lot times and if it do something, it's just for a little minimal time. It's not gonna be nothing that sticks forever. And that's what it is. (Black female, 33 years old)

I want to say that I believe our nationality has a lot to do with it, because we are Native American. (Native American female, 35 years old)

Yeah. I didn't like that. It was just very offensive to me. And I was kinda like, just quit beating around the bush and just tell me straight up what you're thinking. I mean what do you want to see, high school diplomas? So one day he pulled up, and my son, my younger son was graduating last year. And we're all out in the backyard. He's like, “Hey, you guys having a party?” We said, “No, we're actually having a graduation celebration for my younger son.” He's like, “Oh.” And then he started having a conversation with my older son, and didn't know how intellectual his conversation was. It kind of backed him up a little bit. (Black female, 47 years old)


An Automatic Record: The Impact of a UD

Similar to a criminal conviction, an eviction filing is in the public record. When a landlord files an eviction action, the tenant who is filed upon receives an eviction action on their record, regardless of the outcome of the case. Repeatedly, the evictions research team overheard the clerks at Housing Court informally advise tenants who had just won their cases that they still had to move to get the case expunged, adding another cost to the tenant. Distinct from a criminal record, there is no such thing as innocent until proven guilty in Housing Court and for the tenants, this is a lose-lose situation.

When I went to check out. When you leave the court, you have to give them a paper, and the guy...Something just made me ask, the guy kind of like, "I'm done. Is there anything I have to follow up with?" He's like, "You may want to look into filing to get this off of your record." So, the clerk mentioned it to me and I said, "What do you mean? I actually settled out." And he was like, "It will still be on your record. You have to actually do a court filing to get it off of your record." So, yeah. And, at the time I just was like that's too much 'cause it's already a struggle. (Black female, 30 years old)

I think that it definitely has to be made a law that a UD should not go on a person's name until after you have been found guilty in court. It is horrific that you would sit up here and have a UD on my name that prevents me from moving and I have 2 weeks to 3 to go to court with you and I could be somewhere else. You would rather a person be homeless than to give them a day in court to be heard first. I think that's wrong. I think it's absurd. You shouldn't have to be homeless to be heard. That's my main problem with housing courts. (Biracial female, 32 years old)

A lack of education on the part of tenants was extremely obvious as they described the distressing context under which they located the property they were evicted from, the discriminatory ways their families were often treated by owners or property managers, and then their day(s) in court, even when they believed the process was finally over or nearing an end. Yet the process was not over. Whether tenants stayed in place or not, their eviction record would follow them unless they quickly went into crisis management mode, attained the funds to file and seek expungement, and had another day in court. Of the tenants interviewed 60% (41) stated that having a UD created a barrier to obtaining housing. Only 16% (11) of the tenants interviewed had their UDs expunged.

Barriers to safe and affordable housing 2
Source: The Illusion of Choice interviews and intake data, CURA 2018


The Impacts of Having an Eviction on Your Record: Select Illusion of Choice Quotations

Having an Eviction on Your Record

  • Never experienced an eviction until I moved to Minneapolis
  • Landlord knew emergency assistance was coming, but filed an eviction anyway, and knew I was trying to move
  • Always the one working, but I get the eviction on my record   
  • It’s hard to find a place with an eviction; if I could move I would  
  • I paid off my debt and I am stuck with the same landlord              

I wish I would've never came back to Minneapolis because I've got two UD's within 6 months apart from being sick and now they're on my record. I can't rent a property now. No one wants to take a chance on me even though I've been at one of my jobs for 17 years, and I've been at the other job for 6 years. No one wants to take a chance on no one but slumlords. (Black female, 55 years old)

When people see my rental history or my credit, they're like, “Don't rent to her.” They're like, “Don't rent to her. She basically is not going to pay.” It's never anything about damage, it's always been a situation where I'm the one who's always got the job. Even in the past when I've rented with my daughter's dad and his brothers and things of that nature, the place was always in my name. Once something happened on there and they weren't able to chip in, then they're like, “I can't pay the whole thing.” And now I'm the one with the UD even though we were all residing. Now, I'm the one having all of these hurdles and barriers when I try to find housing with two children now. So, it's challenging. (Black female, 31 years old)

When that lady came and served me that paper, I broke down crying. I asked her, I said, “Why? He [landlord] talks to me, he knows emergency assistance...I gave him this 3-day notice and this is how he's gonna do me? So, he know I can't leave this fresh UD. He know I can't do nothing but go to court.” And he was just like,"I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry.” Get off my porch, get off my property right now. I'm like “This is bogus, you've got all your money coming. Why ruin my name? You're attacking my name. You got your money. Y'all own properties, I don't have nothing but my name, and that's what you want?” It took everything in me, I was hot mad. (Biracial female, 42 years old)

No. I'll just say the whole experience just sucks. It's very hurtful to think about. It just makes me very sad, because, like I said, they wasn't lenient or they didn't care about me being a single mom. I do understand it is my fault that I did get pregnant. But they didn't try to work with me at all. You know? It was their way and there was no walking around their way, and it was just done. There was really nothing I could do. So the whole situation makes me mad. It makes me sad. And now I'm stuck in the situation that I am now, getting up very early every day, reaching out to other housing people. But with this thing hanging over me, it hurts. It hurts me going into other places, 'cause I'm automatically turned down. (Black female, 28 years old)

Yeah, I wouldn't if I had a choice, I wouldn't stay here. I would move something bigger and better community. It's my background for criminal and my UDs that I had with him [former landlord] 'cause I went to court last week to do the expungement. I had seven UDs total. They expunged five of them and he ended up coming to court. So he said that he would like them to stay on there until I get done paying the settlement. So I get done paying the thousand for 2016, it's okay for it to be off. And then when I get done paying the $4,000, it's okay for it to be off. So then I basically technically have two UDs on my record. (Black female, 29 years old)

Nobody, I feel in the state of Minnesota, works with anybody that has a felony or anybody that has a UD and I have both so that's a double negative for me. That's triple negative for me, I would say. And I've offered to pay double deposit, double rent, nobody. So that's why we are in the shelter. I was told by them today that the housing I got selected for, nobody ever gets it. The lady that told me, she was like, “You could get selected before somebody 6 months ago came here.” I guess they pick people. They pick random people when stuff comes open they pick a random person. It could be somebody that's been there for 10 days. It's not on a waiting list, like “Oh, I'm at the very bottom” or “I'm on the very top.” They pick random people. (White female, 28 years old)

Well I was hurt because the UD is on your record. So it's just one more thing that block us, the credit report, now the UD. So if I were to try to go out and try to get another place, that's down at the Hennepin County waiting, you know. (Biracial female, 58 years old)

Well, I only had three at the moment, but you know, with him, he got me two extra more, and then the three that I had was so past 7 years ago, past so many years ago, and then I get two fresh new ones in the same year. I didn't even know he could do that. Like when you settle, I thought we, the UD and everything, and I gotta still keep me getting me a UD, and I settled with you, and I paid off. And I'm still staying here. (Black female, 27 years old)

That eviction, that eviction. So my goal is to try and get it expunged. I checked on the process, because that's something they said it will hinder me for a long, long, long, long time. I'm 66 years old. I don't need something on me that long. (Black female, 66 years old)

That eviction itself being on your record, because they said as soon as they like it, it shows up. It bars you. I just had all these application fees that they pay you when they spent your whole deposit paying application fees. I just went through this with the landlord where I was hoping to get the house...Being when I looked at the receipt, because I had him send me a copy of it, because he wasn't even trying to send me the copy, and I told him he can send, what, I asked him what was his reasoning for denial. He said he would send me a letter, he never sent me a letter. (Black female, 46 years old)

'Cause they recent. And they feel like, well if it's recent, we can't trust you and that'd be dumb. And I understand that, that's just smart on the businesses. I wouldn't, myself, rent to a person that has a fresh UD not under the circumstances. I'm just being fair. But people like me who don't deserve it, we still don't got nobody fighting for us and even though it's not fair, on the computer it looks like a [inaudible], but it always got a story behind it. If you don't get that to them...that's why I'm so happy. I've never had a place, my oldest UD is older than my son. My oldest UD is 14 years old, my son is 13 years old. So I've never had the opportunity to live well. I had to always live in the hood. I always had to deal with a slum landlord. I never had the opportunity to know what I'm gonna do? You know what I'm gonna do? Oh my God. (Black female, 33 years old)


When you are locked into a predatory housing landscape, your social and emotional health often become secondary to your basic survival needs. There is a high correlation between housing instability and mental health. Unfortunately, low-income communities of color are too often busy managing one crisis-based decision after another that they are unable to request, receive, and embrace the mental health support that they need to heal from the cyclical pain and trauma that comes along with housing instability.


The Intersection of Mental Health: Causes and Consequences of Housing Instability

Forty percent (27) of the 68 tenants interviewed were either receiving mental health support services or sought out mental health services as a result of their eviction. Of the 59% that stated they were not receiving any mental health services and did not seek them out, 10% (7) said that they should have sought them out.


Barriers to safe and affordable housing 2
Source: The Illusion of Choice interviews and intake data, CURA 2018

The Impacts of Mental Health on Housing: Select Illusion of Choice Quotations

Mental Health

  • Diagnosed with a mental health illness
  • Mental health issues as a result of domestic violence
  • Eviction led me to seek mental health support services
  • Eviction led me to mental health issues and drug use
  • Sacrificing for the family while I was not taking care of myself  
  • Death and loss in the family                             

I've just been recently diagnosed with PTSD, so I have been trying to go through this treatment program. This is going to be my third time trying to go to complete it. But with so many other things going on...You know it's hard to make it to treatment every day. (Black male, 51 years old)

Like sometimes I would go to work, you know, but certain days I just shut down completely. That was before I had my medication. I wasn't working with a mental health worker. I didn't have the proper care or medication that I needed to stop me from shutting down or from getting too overwhelmed to feel like I just want to give up. I can't take it no more. (Black female, 34 years old)

I mean, it's a struggle for everybody. Think about it. You have bare minimum jobs for women to even sell in. We got the hard hats for women, and things like that. But you got things by a lot of people that's in North Minneapolis, 55411 and 55412, suffering from a lot of mental illness. (Black female, 34 years old)

I was involved in a domestic, so I go to therapy. (Black female, 38 years old)

I was in domestic...I still got post-traumatic stress. I was in a relationship for, like, 8 years. The whole 8 years has been most domestic. So, now that I'm still lookin' over my back and...Yeah, my mind wasn't where I was. Bills wasn't my main focus. (Black female, 38 years old)

I think the evictions were making a strain, they caused a big strain after the first one. I think I sought the mental health services around October or November of that first year. (Biracial female, 42 years old)

Yeah, with my primary doctor. I cry to my primary doctor. She told me I needed to see a psychiatrist. When I told her sometimes I'm so desperate, I wanted to smack somebody or throw things. You know? It's just an outlet of how I feel…My solution was just to say inside my apartment and never hang around you know? (East Asian female, 66 years old).

Not at that time. Nope. At that time, depression set it. You know what I mean? And I started to have some mental health issues. I started using drugs just to kind of forget. You know. Somebody introduced it to me. I had never done it before. (Black female, 55 years old)

It was just so...I wasn't taking care of myself. I wasn't even brushing my teeth, showering and doing my hair. I just was, ugh. Yeah. It was just ever since I had the twins. It was just...I never want to go back to that person or feel that way again, because it was just horrible. My kid's dad did not understand why I can't be with him. (Black female, 28 years old)

I did not. Actually, I know we both were depressed, because we were both snapping over just the littlest things. We didn't even get into shelter right away, because we mistook the directions to get into shelter. (Native American female, 35 years old)

After he passed [uncle], and she passed [aunt], back to back, I didn't know that I totally shut down. I literally shut down. Shut everyone, everything off. I went to work, but I wasn't at work. I was barely there when I was there. I didn't know it 'til a year later. My girlfriend said, “Yes, [informant],” she said, “you were so gone. So checked out.” (Black female, 50 years old)

I had a whole meltdown. When you wake up one day and you find out that your life is not really the life that you thought it was, that everything about it was a lie and you try to suck it up and you really can't, I got tired of crying. I didn't really want to talk about it to people because I didn't really want somebody to tell me what they thought. I needed to find out what I was really feeling and why I was feeling it the way I was feeling it. [The therapist] worked with me and I had a lot of problems with my husband. I was with my husband for 35 years and he was a cheater. When he died, all his friends came to the hospital, and they were women. They were planning the funeral, they were trying to collect his body when he died. I realized that that is the way of Minnesota women. I'm not originally from Minnesota. Some of the things that they do is really? (Black female, 56 years old)


The notion that one has failed in values or morals is often read and expressed in multiple forms but generally used to explain an individual's impoverished circumstances inversely, meaning that those who are not poor, have a higher moral compass. As the tenants here describe, a severe mental health crisis is taking place among those communities most vulnerable to exploitation. The crisis is being dealt with primarily through discipline and punishment, not compassion and understanding, which a profit-driven model does not support. The crisis is taking place as mothers work while pregnant when their doctors have ordered bed rest, when a death in the family must take a back seat to the light bill, and when the kids need food and school clothes. Despite the deficit-based language that has been used to blame mostly poor single mothers for their circumstances, the majority of tenants were working a paid job, pushing aside their own mental and emotional needs in an effort to survive. Fifty-seven percent (29) of tenants reported their primary income as work, with 21% (14) also receiving assistance (cash assistance, SSI/SSDI, or a combination).

The Cost of the Courts

photo by Nikki McComb

Ellen is a 55-year-old Black mother of two children. She has worked at the same job for 17 years, while at times balancing a second job. Recently, she was diagnosed with two serious medical conditions that have limited her ability to work and tightened her finances. Although she has borrowed from her 401(k), she has had some trouble making rent payments and as a result has had two eviction filings. With help from Legal Aid, she tried to negotiate with the property management company but had no luck. Ellen eventually was forced to move out and at the time of the interview, lived in her sister’s basement.

Ellen located the property on Craigslist. It was her first choice of housing, because it was more affordable than the property where she lived in St. Paul, where she was paying $1,400 in monthly rent. Also, she would be closer to family, and her daughter could then go to school with her cousins. The rent for the property was $1,125, but it had one less bedroom than she needed. Ellen stated that moving from St. Paul to North Minneapolis was a huge mistake. She experienced housing difficulties that she never had prior to moving to North Minneapolis. She reported that everyone she's spoken with in the 55411 and 55412 zip codes have unlawful detainers on their records. She ended up with two, and no one but slumlords want to take a chance on someone with unlawful detainers, even though she has worked with the same employer for 17 years and can prove income.

Prior to moving into the property, Ellen paid a $45 application fee. She signed a year lease and paid her first month’s rent, a security deposit, and a pet deposit. She moved into this new property with her daughter, who was a minor, and her son, who was over the age of 18 and going away to college. Her primary source of income was paid employment at Target and a company called Conference Service. Ellen never received any additional county or nongovernmental cash benefits. When she found herself in need of additional cash or unable to pay major bills, she borrowed against her 401(k).

While living in the property, Ellen was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, which eventually led to a cancer diagnosis. Due to her medical issues, she could no longer work. Although her employer offered disability, she did not receive the funds right away.

Ellen stated that if she was a day late on rent, the property management company threatened eviction. She was constantly fearful for 5 years. While living in the property, two unlawful detainers were filed against her and she attended Housing Court both times. The first time that Ellen was evicted, she came to Housing Court and mediated in the hallway. The property management company asked her if she wanted to stay in the property and she stated yes, because she had nowhere else to go. They then agreed to a payment plan. Ellen had to pay $900 the day of court and then distribute the rest on top of her future rental payments. If she broke any of these agreed-upon payment benchmarks, she would have only 24 hours to vacate the property. She borrowed against her 401(k) to have a lump sum to pay in court by taking a general purpose loan.

Ellen found herself back in Housing Court a few months later for the same reason. She fell behind on rent while managing less income and increasing medical bills. The property management company presented the same payment plan options and she incurred a court fee and late fees. This time, she took a hardship loan against her 401(k).

Each time she appeared in Housing Court, Ellen had to pay $400-plus in court fees on top of the rent she owed. Additionally, after mediation, Ellen had no idea she would still have an unlawful detainer on her record once the issue was resolved. She wishes she would have done some research.

Ellen was surprised that the property management company filed an eviction, as she was a 50-year-old woman who had never been evicted or received an unlawful detainer. Legal Aid represented her in each of her eviction cases and advised her to either find somewhere else to live or pay. If she chose to leave, they discussed persuading the property management company to support an expungement of the unlawful detainer. One of the reasons that Ellen reached out to Legal Aid was because her property management company was continually threatening to file an unlawful detainer, even though she explained her health situation and the impending disability payments coming. Despite help from Legal Aid, the property management company refused to negotiate.

Ellen, like the majority of the tenants interviewed, found herself in Housing Court agreeing to a payment plan to buy time. Her life had changed completely when she was diagnosed with cancer. No longer able to work, Ellen fell behind on her rent and was forced to go on disability, which only paid her a fraction of her regular salary. Despite staying in constant communication with her landlord, he filed an eviction. Unfortunately, the slow bureaucratic process of going from a paid employee to a receipt of disability from her employer did not align with Hennepin County’s fast eviction process. Ellen was unable to fulfill her payment agreement and her landlord proceeded to file another eviction. Ellen went to court a second time, but now she had taken out a hardship loan from her 401(k) to pay her back rent and court fees.

Most tenants interviewed reported borrowing from either friends and family; resorting to the underground economy, which included jobs like boasting, selling drugs, or braiding hair; or seeking Hennepin County emergency assistance, which almost all stated made them feel “less than human”—all to ensure they had a roof over their heads. Ellen, like many tenants, ended up homeless, now living in her sister’s basement as she described the stress that her health condition was putting on her and her family while her landlord’s constant threats of eviction made her regret ever moving from St. Paul to Minneapolis. She stated that everyone she spoke to in North Minneapolis had evictions on their record. Ellen and almost all of the tenants interviewed stated that even after paying in court, they still had no idea that the eviction stayed on their record until they sought expungement.

The Courts

Court documents related to each interviewee’s unlawful detainer (UD) filing were reviewed for key data (when available). Of the 68 tenants interviewed, 74% (50) had court filing records available for analysis related to the address discussed in their interviews. Of the 50 court filings, fewer than a third (16) ended with an executed writ, meaning the sheriff had to come to remove the tenant from the property.

Removed from My Home by the Sheriff: Select Illusion of Choice Quotations

Writ of Recovery

  • Agreement made and fulfilled with landlord, but writ still executed
  • Had to leave immediately and went straight to shelter
  • Illegally removed from my home

We gave the judge the agreement, and the agreement was that I gave her the $200 right then. So right then, I told my son to go the cash machine and give her $100. I asked her what time she was leaving the office. She told me what time she was leaving the office. I told her I'm going to have my kid's dad drive me over there with the other $100. I got over there, she wasn't there. I left it in the box. So after that, “Well you didn't come.” I said, “I called you three times and you weren't there. I knocked on the door, so I left the money in the box.” Maybe a couple of days later, that's when the sheriff know, I had that paper sent to me, and the sheriff said that I had the... (Black female, 42 years old)

So when the sheriff came, knock on the door told us we had to leave, it was 7:30 in the morning, and then, I told them, I said, “You know what? I heard of Mary Jo's place here so why don't you shoot down there and give her our situation and see what happens.” Her and my daughter, they took the bus down here, and Mary Jo got them in here right away the first day and that was a blessing too. And then ever since then we've been staying here you know. (East Asian male, 34 years old)

[My landlord] came with some red piece of paper, “The sheriff was here. You wasn't here.” I said, “I haven't been gone anywhere, so how did the sheriff come?” I said, “And if you guys are still moving stuff, the sheriff is not supposed to leave, so that's illegal.” He said, “I'll have him come back.” He didn't call. I called the police. The police get there. The sheriff pulls up at the same time, so I'm like do you have a connection with the sheriff guy? And he's like, “I'm gonna need you. Don't come on this property.” Like the sheriff was really nasty with me. Yet and still, I still didn't get a printout, a copy of items that were left there. They were stored in the garage, which I know by law, if it's stored on a property, he has to store it for 30 days with no payment. I don't have to pay him anything. (Black female, 36 years old)

I contacted and contacted [the landlord]. He wouldn't answer. That same day, I took a risk and had my sister drive me back over there through the alley. I have a video recording of me and all my kids' stuff filled close, thrown in the trash cans, thrown in the recycle bins, thrown all over the alley. (Black female, 36 years old)


Of the 50 court filings, 12% (6) resulted in a judgment for the landlord in the initial hearing and in 14% (7) the tenant agreed to vacate the premises, but the vast majority, 64% (32), resulted in a payment plan. Of those cases, 41 were for nonpayment of rent and 4 were for breaches of lease or property damage (of the remaining cases, 3 were filed by the tenants, in 1 the tenant abandoned the property, and 1 resulted in mediation). The average amount owed by the tenant in these court filings was $2,160. The average amount of court fee(s) passed on to the tenant was $361. For those 32 tenants who agreed to a payment plan, they were given an average of 32 days to pay an average of $2,889 in back rent.

Outcomes of Court Cases
Source: Analysis of Hennepin County Housing Court cases pertaining to evictions discussed in qualitative interviews


Buying Time in Court: Select Illusion of Choice Quotations

Payment Plan

  • Agreed to a payment plan that I knew I could not keep
  • Borrowed against my 401(k) to settle my debt in court
  • Paid in court and thought it was settled, but I still have an eviction on my record
  • Tried to work it out with landlord, still removed from home

I think it was, let's say $1,100 in a week, or in a few days, or something like that. And we knew when we saw it and signed it, we was like, this is just gonna buy us some time, we knew it. It was outrageous. Their lawyer, cause [landlords] didn't come to the court, their lawyer was there. And he gave us this big ole number and he was like, this is what you have to pay. We only owed them $2,100, one full month and then half a month. No 2 months, it was 2 months we end up owing them. (Black female, 35 years old)

Both times I went to court, I made sure that I had the amount of money that, when I got served, that they said I owed. So, I had the whole amount when I went to court, because both times when I went to court, I borrowed against my 401(k) both times to get the money. I took a—what they call it—a general purpose loan. That was the first time, and then the second time, I took a hardship loan. (Black female, 55 years old)

They [property managers] kept threatening me that was gonna do it [evict me] so I contacted Legal Aid. Legal Aid said, “Well, bring down…” Legal Aid told me to bring down my paperwork, stating that I was off work and I was sick, and how much I get every 2 weeks to see if we could work out a payment arrangement with them, but they didn't want to do it. They wanted all their money up front and both times they took me to court, I had to pay the court costs, which was 400 and something dollars. It was ridiculous. (Black female, 55 years old)

I didn't even know that, okay, when I did go to court—because I went to court both times—we resolved the matter in the hallway before we went in before the judge, and I still got a UD on my record. I thought, maybe I should've did my research before I went, but I didn't do it because I didn't know about UDs that if you resolve the matter and I still continued to stay there 4 or 3 years later that it wouldn't be on your record, but it was. I didn't know that that's how it worked. (Black female, 55 years old)

But, I agreed to it because I didn't want me and my kids to be homeless, and I did know that...Okay, 2 weeks I'll have this, 2 weeks I'll have that. But, I was tryin' to prolong the situation because I didn't want to be homeless. (Black female, 38 years old)

I'm trying to think. He [the landlord] just pretty much said no, that he wouldn't because I told him that my situation wasn't going to change [reduced work hours] until August when school started back. He went in and talked to the judge. The finding was that it would be best that I just move. He still paid the landlord. He still got his money, but they gave me 11 days because I had the kids. (Black female, 48 years old)


I just don't think the courts hear the tenants enough. I don't feel like the landlords have as many consequences as the tenants does. If a tenant doesn't pay rent, they automatically have to move or pay that rent and plus that huge filing fee that they paid, and everybody's not able to do that, no matter what type of money you may be making, nobody knows your circumstances.

I think the courts should give the tenants an option to tell their story. A lot of people get in those situations, you don't know how they got there. I don't think people are just sitting around not paying rent just to not be paying rent, you know? (Black female, 46 years old)

Interrogating Nonpayment of Rent: The Politics of Landlord Retaliation

What’s Behind Nonpayment of Rent?

In the Minneapolis Innovation Team’s Evictions in Minneapolis report it states that nearly 93% of the city’s eviction filings were for nonpayment of rent. Similarly, of the 68 tenants who were interviewed, 81% (55) of their evictions were filed for nonpayment of rent. However, CURA’s research findings highlighted a need to demystify what nonpayment of rent really means from the perspective of those most impacted. From the perspective of landlords (both nonprofit and for-profit), most stated that because they cannot get the support from local law enforcement to appear in Housing Court, particularly for lease violations, filing nonpayment of rent becomes the easiest way to get rid of “problem tenants.” What is not captured in this analysis and the existing literature, however, are the ways that nonpayment of rent is being used by many to disportionately evade tenants’ rights to be free from retaliation. Two Minnesota laws protect tenants from retaliation by landlords: one applies when a landlord seeks to terminate a tenancy as a penalty for a tenant’s attempt to enforce rights, and the other bans retaliatory evictions under the Tenant Remedies Act (TRA).

On August 3, 2018, Dorsey & Whitney, LLP, submitted an amicus curiae (Latin for Friend of the Court; a legal brief submitted on behalf of a party outside of a case that has expertise that may inform the case) on behalf of InquilinXs UnidXs por Justicia (“United Renters”) in support of Aaron Olson to the Minnesota Supreme Court in an appeal. The court case focused on the anti-retaliation provision of the TRA, which states that “a residential tenant may not be evicted, have their obligations increased, or have their services decreased, if it ‘is intended as a penalty for the residential tenant’s or housing related neighborhood organization’s complaint of a violation.’” A “complaint of a violation” refers to a complaint on behalf of a tenant regarding landlord housing code violations or unaddressed issues with the property. However, the Court of Appeals constructed a limited and exclusionary definition of what legally constitutes a “complaint of a violation”: it would constitute solely complaints filed in court with the intention of civil actions to be taken against the landlord.

Dr. Brittany Lewis was sought out for her research findings and proceeded to analyze the 38 tenant interviews that had been completed at the time and wrote an official declaration for the amicus curiae. Of the 38 tenants that she interviewed as a component of this study, 11 had “experienced what the tenant perceived to be a form of retaliation by their landlord in response to the tenant complaining about an issue with their housing arrangement,” and 5 of these individuals reported specifically that their landlord filed an eviction action shortly after they reported a problem with their housing (through the city’s Inspections Department). In addition, due to deplorable living conditions, landlords often make informal verbal arrangements for late rental payments. However, these verbal agreements would be immediately broken with an eviction action being filed by the landlord if and when the tenant called the Inspections Department. Under the Court of Appeals’ interpretation, the tenant would only be protected under section 504B.441 if the tenant filed a lawsuit. Dr. Lewis notes that under the Court of Appeals’ interpretation of what entails a “complaint of violation,” Minnesota’s retaliation would only get worse—“unscrupulous landlords would be emboldened to retaliate against complaining tenants, landlords would be incentivized to take retaliatory actions at the first sign of a complaint (to head off a possible retaliation defense), and a chilling effect would result in more tenants choosing to live in unhealthy conditions instead of exercising their rights to live in safe conditions free from discrimination.”

Landlord Retaliation: Select Illusion of Choice Quotations

Eviction Filed After Calling Inspections or Making Complaint

It basically something that was a long time coming. Because of his tit for tat type of games and things of that nature, I had to be very strategic in my business relationship with him. I had to comply and do what I needed to do as a tenant in order to be left alone if that makes sense. I just paid my rent, I talked to him pretty much only about money, very minimal about repairs. Every time I did ask about repairs, it ended up in retaliation. So, we went to court and we actually settled. We never even saw the judge because I has asked for repairs to be done. He had heard about this new tenant complaining about all these things that need to be fixed, so he actually...He, meaning Mir Ali. He actually physically came to the property himself to basically confirm that these things were true repairs and not renovations. So, he did make the confirmation that those things would be repaired and by the end of that month, instead of having a repair man come in and fix those things, I ended up getting a letter to vacate. Obviously, I thought that as retaliation, which we didn't even need to go to a judge to settle that. It was settled. I just really went through it with this landlord. I even rewrote his lease one time, which now he's currently using. (Black female, 31 years old)

When I threatened to call her, that's when she started saying, "You owe me this, and you didn't give me that," and I had never had this issue before, because like I said, I had rented for 6 years for somebody, and he was the perfect landlord. But...okay, so I call Section 8, and she said, "Just put your money in [escrow]." I said, "What is that?" And she was like, "This where you keep it, and you don't give it to her until she fixes it." That's all the lady told me. So, I didn't give her no more money after that. It was cold in the room, it rained in there. When it started snowing, now this went from raining to snowing and she still hadn't moved this dishwasher, and the kids were like, "I think there's mice in the ceiling in the basement." Well, when I listened, it sounded bigger than a mouse, so I'm assuming it's those possums that lived in our yard. She didn't come out and fix nothing, so we went back and forth about the money and about fixing the stuff, and then she filed for eviction. (Black female, 42 years old)

But I do know he was pretty much upset and told me he was trying to sell these properties and this certain company already bought some. They was coming to buy 20 more. And out those 20, I was open and honest with their maintenance team that came over, looking the place prior to buying. OK? And I told them guys I couldn't talk to him because he was here. I'll get in trouble. He'll do something. Well lo and behold, somebody must've said something because he literally sent me an email, and even told me at court, I was the reason they did not buy. (Biracial female, 45 years old)

[Tenant called the City Inspector twice] Things started getting rough a little bit after the evictions and when I started needing things done, or you know, to the property. Yeah. I would call him. Tell him I need this done, that done, and he would send someone out to do it, but it wouldn't be done right. He'd actually find people off the streets to do it, you know? I needed a door. He come put the door up, but it's too short, so they applied plywood to make it fit, you know? Things like that, and I dealt with that since I've been here. The heating's bad. The plumbing's bad, as you can hear. The toilet won't stop. My...I've never been able to use the shower down here. The tub upstairs know, you look at the tub, and you don't know if it's clean or dirty, so, I like to clean it out before I get in because it's got a stain around it that just not liftable. The tub upstairs was leaking into the kitchen, like, he had to do...I don't know. He came and put some type of stuff to stop it, but it's still leaking, so I know it's all type of mold somewhere in there, you know? My basement has been leaking stuff, and so the problems started after my complaints. (Black female, 33 years old)

[Tenant complained about the lack of electricity in his apartment] It's against state law for him to withhold power. This is your building. And then I told him the city said for you to come and put that power box upstairs, wire this building right. Instead of you trying to extort something out of me. When he couldn't extort nothing, I dictate and dominate. Folks get real raffled, because they figure that they the owner it's gonna be their way or the highway. But underneath state law, I told him it's illegal to retaliate. So this is what he said, I'm gonna just sell the building. (Black male, 55 years old)


Landlord Retaliation: Beyond the Anti-Retaliation Provision

After completing analysis of all 68 interviews, considering the anti-retaliation provision of the TRA and looking closely at those cases that fell outside its provision, we found that there is much more behind nonpayment of rent that current data has yet to uncover.

Of the 68 tenants interviewed, 21% (14) reported cases that could fall under the anti-retaliation provision and 10% (7) fall outside of the limiting framework of the provision but provide insight into potential gaps in the current provision. The cases outside of the current provision were inclusive of tenants who reported retaliation, because they refused sexual advances by their landlords, landlords refused to accept payments after an agreement was made, and landlords prematurely anticipated tenants not paying due to their plans to move. Although the landlords’ conduct violates the law, since they filed the evictions as nonpayment of rent cases instead of seeking to formally end the tenancies, Minnesota’s anti-retaliation statutes—in their current form—do not apply.

Even when the anti-retaliation statutes do apply, existing eviction procedures make them nearly impossible for many tenants to access. The law has not created an accessible way for tenants to assert the defense of retaliation outside an eviction action itself. Many tenants are unwilling to take the risk of losing an eviction case in hopes they might convince the judge that the retaliation defense applies. And those who do wish to prove retaliation face a confusing, extremely fast eviction process in which to make their cases and a system that does not guarantee the right to legal representation.

Beyond the Anti-Retaliation Provision

Shelly is a 36-year-old single Black mother of three young girls. At the time she was securing a place to live, she was working three jobs and paying $950 a month in rent. Shelly signed a month-to-month lease. Although she was initially leery when she met the landlord, she was desperate for a place to live. While living in the property, her landlord tried to pursue a sexual relationship with her in exchange for property upkeep. Shelly refused her landlord’s advances and as a result, the landlord refused to accept her rent payments twice and instead filed two different unlawful detainers for nonpayment of rent in an attempt to have her removed from the property.

Shelly felt discriminated against because of her race and gender. According to Shelly, her landlord treated her like “the lowest of the low” by filing unlawful detainers even after she had paid her rent, asking inappropriate questions, assuming she was sexually available, and arrogantly brushing off her refusal to have a sexual relationship.

At Housing Court, Shelly presented pictures of her receipts as proof that she deposited the money into his account. The court allowed Shelly to get an expungement since she was able to prove that she had paid. However, the landlord then required her to pay the next month’s rent within 7 days. Shelly could not do so, since she only got paid every 2 weeks. Additionally, even though she won her case, she still had an unlawful detainer on her record.

The landlord spoke with Shelly and asked if she was planning to stay. With limited choices, Shelly planned to stay but she refused to pay the extra $500 filing fee, because it was the landlord’s choice to sneak and file an eviction with no cause. Additionally, the court did not require Shelly to pay her landlord's attorney’s fees, because she proved that she attempted to pay, but the landlord refused the payment. However, Shelly still needed to find a way to pay the following month’s rent in 7 days, and she quickly sought and received help from the Salvation Army in order to stay.

While they were going through the court process, her landlord reached out to her via phone and left a message asking if she knew “why Black people die so young?" Shelly called the landlord back upset and asked what his question had to do with their tenant-landlord relationship. This remark was made after the landlord had previously made a pass at her by stating, "If you promise to be good, I could fix this place up really nice for you." Shelly told her landlord that she did not know what other female tenants he had been dealing with in the past, but that there would be no sexual favors or encounters for her to stay in the property. After that interaction, her landlord would come up with reasons to come over and fix things without telling Shelly he was coming.

After Shelly’s first court appearance, the landlord decided that he did not want to wait on the Salvation Army to pay her next month’s rent. When Shelly attempted to pay, the landlord wrote a check back to Shelly and delivered it to her through her 12-year-old daughter. He then filed another unlawful detainer for nonpayment of rent. Shelly immediately called an attorney at Legal Aid. She learned that since her daughter was under 18 years old, she was not supposed to be handed anything. Shelly took her daughter to school and upon returning home found that the landlord had paid a few men to remove her belongings from the home. Shortly after, the sheriff arrived and forced Shelly to leave the property. As a result, she became homeless again.

During this process Shelly learned that her landlord was known in the community as a sexual predator. At one point she had visited the local payday loan place and the Black woman serving her saw her landlord’s name on her paperwork and began to tell Shelly about the time that she was a tenant with the same landlord and how he pursued her sexually.

The state of Minnesota’s current anti-retaliation provision does not protect women like Shelly. In fact, representatives from Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid confirmed that there is currently no systematic way for these tenants to seek and file a grievance for sexual harassment and that they internally are keeping what they call a “creep list” to track those landlords whom multiple tenants have cited for inappropriate sexual advances.

In April of 2019, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid filed a lawsuit on behalf of Vexada Clark against Karl Krueger and Dane Limited, LLC, for preying “upon women by conferring housing benefits because of or through conditioning rental terms on a woman’s sex or willingness to perform sexual favors for Mr. Krueger” (Clark vs. Krueger et al., Civil Action No. 0:19-cv-745, 2019, p. 1, trail pending as of this writing). Four out of 68 tenants interviewed for the project provided vivid details about how their landlords or property managers used conditional lease terms to broker sex from tenants in exchange for upkeep or rent. One of the four tenants stated that she actually brought up her landlords inappropriate sexual advances in Housing Court and was told by the judge that “this was not the place to bring it up.” The other women all stated that they did not feel comfortable speaking up in court or did not feel like the Housing Court process provided the opportunity for them to share what they were experiencing due to the open court structure, 29 years oldwhich provides little privacy.

And it's not fair and then we gotta be liars because we behind in rent, oh now you gonna bring it up, why didn't you bring it up before? And if you would've brought it up, what would've happened? If I call the police and say, hey my landlord hitting on me, what do y'all gonna tell me to do? Move out. So then if I wanna stay there, well you must like it. It's like you can't win if you're losing. (Black female, 33 years old)

Limited Framework of Anti-Retaliation Provision: Select Illusion of Choice Quotations

Eviction Filed for Discriminatory Reasons

The second [eviction] one was last year. Actually he had hurt his hip so his son was helping him around here. There was an issue with the heat and his son actually came down and turned the heat down. But he was telling me it was down and he was telling me it was him. When he came over here me and his son had words. It was on a Friday and Monday I had eviction. He filed for eviction on me. And then he said I hadn't paid rent since July 2017 but I had a letter from him, 'cause I'm working with HRA. (Black female, 29 years old)

It kind of went personal because he was trying to hit on me or you know and that's what I...kind of...I told my husband what he did so it broke...Yeah and then that's when he evicted us. Because they got into an argument...Rent was due. I didn't pay rent. That's because he didn't pay us [for roofing work on landlords other properties]. (Native American female, 48 years old)

But it was after he had been allowing—after he did a lot of crooked stuff, you know, to where he sat there and he made a pass and was like well if you'll promise to be good, I could fix this up really nice for you. And then once I told him, I said what are you talking about? I don't know what other type of women tenants you dealing with, but I'm not that one. There will be no sexual favors, encounters, for me to reside here. (Black female, 36 years old)


Causes of Eviction Actions

Tenant-stated reasons for nonpayment of rent

Of the remaining 47 interviews, a majority of whose cases were filed for nonpayment of rent, tenants stated that in fact their eviction filing was spurred by other factors, challenging our common-sense notions of why tenants are finding themselves one crisis away from becoming evicted.

  • 22% (15) of the tenants stated that their eviction filing was spurred by job loss, decreased income, or lack of resources.
  • 18% (12) of the tenants stated that their eviction filing was spurred by landlord mismanagement, such as filing an eviction for nonpayment when rent had actually been paid in full, or landlord disputes, such as landlords making verbal agreements regarding tenant repairs.
  • 13% (9) of the tenants stated that their eviction filing was spurred by domestic violence and/or trauma, crisis, or deaths of close family and friends most often connected to issues with mental, physical, and medical health.  
  • 7% (5) of the tenants stated that their eviction filing was spurred by a conduct on premise issue most often connected to damage or nuisance caused by guests or a roommate.
  • 7% (5) of the tenants stated that their eviction filing was spurred by them simply not paying rent.
  • 1% (1) of the tenants stated that their eviction filing was spurred by a housing program failing to pay the rent on their behalf.


What’s Behind Nonpayment of Rent?: Select Illusion of Choice Quotations

What crisis led to inability to pay?

  • Job loss
  • Landlord mismanagement
  • Domestic violence
  • Conduct on premise
  • Simply did not pay rent
  • Housing voucher program failed to pay

We were both working, but he ended up getting laid off probably 3 months after us living there, so it was just my income. He would do temp jobs here and there, just so we could keep up with everything. But, yeah, when he got laid off, that was a big loss of income. (Black female, 35 years old)

Just the mismanagement, careless management. It's on my record as an eviction. However, I was able to go and sit down, and they take you through the court, and do the mediation, and I had the documentation of my receipts. And so, they were saying that I owed them a fee that I didn't owe because I had the receipt to line up. And so, we were settled at zero. However, I have to pay for a filing for that to be off of my record that I can't afford. I can't afford a $300 filing fee to get this off of my record because you guys were misinformed. Therefore, translating to me getting a place now has been terrible. It took me 9 months to find a place because that's on my record. (Black female, 30 years old)

And the reason I didn't pay rent in July is because my boyfriend. I coming from a batter situation. My boyfriend always beat me up, jumping on me, taking my money because he wants to do other things with the money. But I say pay the rent and different stuff, so he stole that month's rent, the July rent. But I told the lady I would pay that up next month when I pay my other month rent. I can do that. You know what I'm saying? I say that would not be no problem, no issue or nothing like that. (Black female, 53 years old)

I had broke up with my kid’s dad after being with him for 17 years. Somebody told him I was at some guy's house and, I wasn't, which ended up...He ended up finding out where I moved at...'Bout 3 months later, he started seeing I was very serious [about breaking up]. He came over one day, he threw gasoline on my car and burnt my car up. He kicked the back door in, poured gasoline in the back door, and the kids were upstairs on the balcony, talking to him. All agreeable and telling him not to do it...Either way it goes, he did arson. And when he did the arson, the landlord got mad at me. Even though the landlord had insurance, he ended up gettin' up prosecuted. He went to jail, all of that. The landlord got mad at me, and wanted me to start payin' damages...And so that's how we ended up fallin' out. (Black female, 45 years old)

The relationship with my girlfriend and nonpayment of rent...And then I was holding it, I was trying to make up my mind do I really want to give up this place. And that would have been a dumb, stupidest thing I ever done...I came home, I had been away from the property for bout a couple of months. I came home the eviction in the mail and I had one on my door. (Black male, 59 years old)

No, not at that point. At that point, I knew it was coming because I had been in, and 6, 7 months the man hadn't gotten a dime. And now they're sweating me, and I'm like, well that was your friend that got us in here in the first place. And you know the VA's not coming up with their portion and so. But here I am, I'm the one with the unlawful detainer. (Black male, 51 years old)

And then basically I lost my job because I...the people I was driving with to clean houses...well first our car broke down, we bought a car in February, broke down a month later. I was riding with people, I was riding with my sister, she worked with me and then after that I was riding with my friend and both of them are the people that left and skipped out on rent and I didn't have a ride to work anywhere so I had to stop working too. (Black female, 30 years old)

Informal Evictions

Christopher is a 60-year-old Black male. He was living in a shared rooming situation when he found his own place to rent. However, the home that he was renting was condemned by the city of Minneapolis and with just minutes’ warning, he was ordered to gather as many of his belongings as he could and vacate the space. For Christopher, this experience triggered his past abuse issues and led to him checking into a psych ward. After experiencing the eviction, Christopher became homeless.  

Christopher located the property while riding on the city bus. He saw a friend standing outside and inquired about potential openings. At the time he was living in a rooming house where he rented a room for $500 a month. He wanted to move because the other tenants were using drugs and he did not feel comfortable. Christopher’s friend connected him with the landlord directly, as a woman had just moved out and there was an opening available.

The apartment Christopher rented was his first choice of housing, because he was able to get out of his last situation within a month. He stated that his new place was nicer simply because he no longer had to share a bathroom and kitchen with nine other people. The home he lived in formerly was in North Minneapolis and a woman was subleasing the rooms. He stated that his room had been broken into two times.

When Chrisopher rented the new place, the landlord did not do a background check; he simply had him sign a lease. Christopher paid the first month’s rent and Hennepin County paid the damage deposit. When he viewed the landlord’s apartment, who lived on-site, he noticed that the landlord’s wife was a hoarder. Christopher was the only person on the lease and the only tenant living in the apartment throughout his lease term.

Christopher was living in his new residence for 9 months when the city of Minneapolis Inspections Department came to his building and declared that it was being condemned. The city required all tenants, including the landlord, to vacate the premises immediately. The city gave him 15 minutes to gather his belongings and a card where he could call and arrange to come back later and get the rest of his things. Christopher did not know that his landlord was having any issues with the city Inspections Department, and his landlord claimed he had no idea that the city was going to close the building. Christopher did not believe him. He felt the landlord simply did not tell the tenants and collected rent anyway.

Dr. Lewis interviewed Christopher at Housing Court the day after all of the tenants were removed from this property. He reported that he was at court to file formal charges against his landlord for the rent and his damage deposit. During the interview, Christopher was wearing a hospital identification bracelet. He explained that after being removed from his home, he checked himself into the psych ward, because he was afraid that he was going to “hurt” himself. He lamented that this apartment was the first time he had ever had an apartment in his name. He is a former drug abuser and being removed from his first apartment with only 15 minutes to grab his belongings almost caused him to re-abuse, but he checked himself into the hospital instead.

Informal Evictions: An Understudied Phenomena

Similar to other eviction research projects (Desmond, 2012), quantifying formal eviction actions may obscure the reality of lease terminations between landlords and tenants in North Minneapolis. As one of the landlords noted, “I try to do the mutual agreement first, again, to avoid the cost of the eviction and knowing the impact on the family. Also, if the family has a Section 8 voucher, an eviction can impact their voucher. Not always, but sometimes.”

Both tenants and landlords gave us an insight into the reality of informal evictions in North Minneapolis: 6% (4) of the 68 tenants interviewed described informal evictions, meaning that they did not receive a formal eviction filing and did not appear before a Housing Court judge but were required to vacate the property without due process (this rate may be significantly skewed toward formal eviction actions due to the sampling framework of this project); 81% (26) of the 32 landlords interviewed noted the use of mutual termination in an effort to evict tenants without involving an eviction filing. Across the group, some landlords noted the rare use of mutual terminations—one landlord about 50% of the time, and a number of landlords pursue a mutual termination almost every time.


Informal Evictions: Select Illusion of Choice Quotations

Informal Evictions

  • Owner sold home and told tenant last minute
  • Building condemned and tenant given 15 minutes to gather belongings
  • Landlord filed grievance with MPHA Section 8 office and tenant is subject to losing voucher

Yeah, like I was 2 days from having to give it to him, and he knocked on my door, telling me he sold the house and I had to get my stuff out of there. He sold the house. So I was there like, literally a week and he sold it from under me. And the tenant that was, I guess upstairs, I don't know if they knew the person or not, but I know he said that he sold it. But I, rode past it afterwards a couple of times and I still saw the same people upstairs, so honestly I think, I got put in like one of them, you know, we’re going to keep flowing people in and out. (Black female, 22 years old)

They [the city inspector] just told me get my stuff, I got 15 minutes to get my stuff [building condemned], don't take everything, they gave me a card and told me I had to come back and get the rest of my stuff. (Black male, 60 years old)

I was feeling suicidal, and I told him [the city inspector], I called the crisis team and I went to Hennepin County yesterday and stayed in the psych ward last night because I was feeling suicidal because this should have never happened to me. (Black male, 60 years old)

The attorney say, we're going to work on a...Before I'm not even the meeting, he say, “What do you think about your landlord, if she say stay?” I say, “It probably it will be problem for me to find a property but to stay in this property, I have no trust. I don't trust anymore.” They say, “You have to talk to your attorney about that.” He told me, he give me three option where about to live. He say, either break the lease and move and lose Section 8 or either be patient and stay, until we fix the problem. Unless she let you stay and have you Section 8. Then that way, it will be better if you and her deal each others. You say, “You know what? You mind if I move?” That's second choice. (Black female, 53 years old)

Yeah. It will be hard time to find housing and it will be problem and if I force to leave and let's say, I don't want to deal with the landlord and then I am forced or move, yes, I will lose Section 8 and everything will be hard. That's why the lawyer won't prefer that. (Black female, 53 years old)


Conclusions and Implications

When assessing how and why evictions take place from the perspective of tenants, the following major themes emerged from the interviews:

  • The increasing number of evictions taking place throughout the country is silently, yet violently, disrupting the lives of millions.
  • Choice is an illusion when the context in which you are making decisions is almost always a state of duress, mediated by those with more power over your material life than you often have, and where survival, rather than personal and familial growth and advancement, is at the center of your thinking.
  • When tenants’ basic physiological needs like food, shelter, water, and sleep are in a constant state of flux, they are never able to escape survival mode. Rather, they are moving from crisis to crisis, weighing the consequences of each decision, most of which are made only to buy more time.
  • Racial discrimination and a criminal background were the top two items that tenants cited as barriers to accessing safe, quality affordable housing.
  • Evictions and homelessness are highly correlated. Approximately 41% (28) of the tenants in this project reported homelessness as a result of their eviction.
  • The threat and use of multiple filings is often used as a punishment tactic, but they do not always result in a tenant vacating the home. In turn, multiple filings actually become a barrier to moving from a home.
  • Tenants were not aware that when a landlord files an eviction action, the eviction shows up on their record regardless of the outcome of the case. Distinct from a criminal record, there is no such thing as innocent until proven guilty in Housing Court, and for the tenants this is a lose-lose situation.
  • The notion that one has failed in values or morals is often read and expressed in multiple forms but generally used to explain an individual's impoverished circumstances inversely, meaning that those who are not poor have a higher moral compass. As the tenants described, there is a severe mental health crisis taking place among those communities most vulnerable to exploitation. This crisis is being dealt with primarily through discipline and punishment rather than with compassion and understanding.
  • Nonpayment of rent is the leading reported cause for eviction actions. Yet, The Illusion of Choice project aims to demystify what nonpayment of rent really means from the perspective of those most impacted. What is not captured in previous analyses and the existing literature are the ways that nonpayment of rent is used by many to disportionately evade tenants’ rights to be free from retaliation.

The Illusion of Choice: Evictions and Profit in North Minneapolis report reflects what we know: single Black females with children are at the highest risk for eviction in North Minneapolis. However, our report deepens and illuminates a much more complex story that has been hidden and/or ignored until recently. Safe, quality, and affordable housing is a basic human right and the anchor for stability for individuals, families, and future generations. Yet tenants who are living at the bottom of the social, economic, and political stratum of society are caught in a cyclical trap from which others with material privilege benefit. Choice is an illusion that is framed by limited and constrained options available to low-income tenants of color in North Minneapolis and mediated by power brokers who can aid or disrupt opportunity at any point.  Additionally, race and the criminal backgrounds of tenants and/or their family members provide even more barriers to accessing stable housing.           

Tenants report living in a constant state of crisis decision making. When tenants’ basic physiological needs such as food, shelter, water, and sleep are in a constant state of flux, they are stuck in survival mode, always trying to weigh the consequences of their decisions. Do I feed my child? Or pay my light bill? Often, these decisions drive putting off the inevitable. Additionally, beyond the physical, economic, and social impact of evictions, there is a psychological impact as well. Mental health and housing instability are highly correlated. Tenants reported mental health concerns as both a cause of housing insecurity, as well as a consequence. 

The state plays a major role in the ability of tenants to both prevent and move beyond an eviction action. Upon filing, tenants are not only presumed guilty through an immediate record but also are often tagged by landlords for the filing fee, regardless of the outcome of the case. These fees add to the financial burden of individuals who already face financial precarity in regaining housing stability. Current statutes provide limited and weak protections, at best, for tenants who face retaliation from landlords who are provoked by tenants’ requests for repairs and interactions with city inspections. Those tenants who face circumstances outside of current statutes, including racial discrimination and sexual harassment, are not protected by current housing statutes. Additionally, the burden of proof in civil court and the cost of litigation fall on tenants to even begin to prove retaliation.

Formal court actions only provide a glimpse of a deeper, systemic crisis of evictions in North Minneapolis. Tenants are vulnerable to the power of landlords, which is mitigated and/or exacerbated by the state. This reality is critical for a future understanding of housing stability in the context of the relationship between tenants, landlords, and the state. For low-income people and people of color, evictions pose a significant barrier to accessing and maintaining quality, stable housing. The move toward the stabilization of all households, by elevating the expertise of those most vulnerable to it, will only benefit individuals and families that have historically been shut out of fair and just housing solutions and will have an impact on future generations’ health and wellness.

Read the next part: Findings: Social Service Run Around