Cook Eviction Stats Part 5: Are eviction filings increasing?

The Chicago Landlord-Tenant ordinance has been amended many times since its creation in 1986. The most recent changes were in 2004, 2008 and 2010. By and large these changes have been in response to major trends in landlord-tenant behavior. For example, since 2010 landlords have had to tell their tenants the name and address of the bank where a security deposit is held. This was so that tenants could still track down their deposits if the bank foreclosed on their apartment building.

As is often the case with law changes, the general reaction to new CRLTO amendments has involved a lot of hand-wringing and fretting among landlords. Meanwhile, the economic troubles that have plagued our country in the past half a decade would theoretically cause more tenants to miss rent payments and get into situations that might prompt an eviction case. This nasty combination of tighter laws and a weaker economy made me wonder if the rate of eviction filings was getting higher or lower over time.

Evictions by Year: City and Suburbs

The county was kind enough to provide me with annual breakouts of the eviction filings by district going back to 2004. The data was generated on November 28, 2012, though, so it was missing December’s data. I’ve gone ahead and estimated the final numbers for 2012 so they may be a little bit off. First we’ll look at the city data.

There’s some wobbling, and a big surge in 2008 when the foreclosures were getting really nasty, but for the most part the numbers are wandering around the 32000 mark across the board. It isn’t totally consistent but there’s no upward or downward trend that I can see so far.

Meanwhile, let’s take a look at what’s happened in the suburbs. Some of the suburbs may have their own landlord-tenant ordinances but none so complex as Chicago.

So… yeah. The city numbers have stayed relatively static while the suburban numbers have gotten steadily worse over the same period. If I were to draw my final conclusions right here, I’d say that the eviction rate in Chicago is actually slowing over time in comparison with the surrounding areas. (We will revise this conclusion further down. Don’t stop here.)

Why are the city and suburban trends so different? The growth is mostly at the Rolling Meadows and Bridgeview courthouses. It isn’t consistent across all districts, which we’d see if it was due to city landlords filing their cases in suburban courts. It also isn’t concentrated in Skokie and Rolling Meadows, which is what I’d expect if landlords were pursuing the urban legend of easy judges up north that we debunked in Part 4.

There’s another cause that is more likely, and it involves looking at the Chicago numbers in a different way.

What About Inventory?

Those of you who have been following me for a while will be chomping at the bit to point out the decrease in Chicago’s rental inventory over the past 8 years. Thousands of apartments have been converted to condos. Don’t worry, I’ve got this covered.

If you remember back to November, I did an article examining ways to count the total number of occupied apartments in Chicago, and I’ve come up with two methods that will work to give us annual estimates. We’ve got two years of actual data from the American Housing Survey – 2004 and 2009. The lazy man’s estimate for the interim years would involve simple averaging. We can do that, but I have access to some real numbers that will allow us to get a bit more precise.

The MLS lets me look up which condos were sold as “New,” “Planned Construction,” and “Under Construction.” I’ve researched the numbers for each year from 2004 to 2012, and have subtracted them in sequence from the 2004 AHS survey count.

The results of the two counting methods are compared in the chart below. They’re pretty close, although they get further apart in recent years. Condo conversion has ceased to be the main reason for the demise of apartments lately, so this is not too surprising.

Any way you slice it, the inventory has dropped steadily over the past eight years. Even though thousands of new apartments will be added to the downtown inventory over the next 24 months, construction has been at a standstill until very recently due to the economy. Fortunately, when it comes to calculating the eviction rate, the difference in methods results in a difference of no more than .08%. I will therefore be using the more optimistic method (counting condos) to determine the eviction rate.

Once inventory is taken into account, the numbers look more like the suburban graph, although we see a big jump in 2007 instead of a slow increase. This is consistent with the economic slump. A slight improvement occurred in 2010 when the sheriff put a moratorium on evicting tenants from foreclosed buildings, but it leaped right back up again afterwards. I should point out that when we’re talking about filings in the 30,000s, and each apartment containing an average of 2-3 people, even a 0.6% change in eviction rate affects hundreds of people.

Final Analysis

So in Chicago the number of eviction filings has remained pretty consistent over the past 8 years, but the number of available apartments has decreased. This has resulted in an overall higher eviction rate. Meanwhile, the suburban rental inventory has remained steady but the filings have increased. I can’t see any corresponding upward or downward spikes that could be traced to changes in the CRLTO. Rather, I think the eviction rate is affected chiefly by the economy and the available apartment inventory.

Unfortunately I don’t have the year by year breakdown of verdicts, so can’t say whether or not it’s gotten easier to complete an eviction case. However, Chicago landlords have definitely found it necessary to file more often in recent years. Considering the increasing strictness of the laws, I don’t know that we can attribute the increase to frivolous filings – it seems more likely to me that the weaker landlords would be intimidated away from filing in a stricter environment, which would in turn cause the number of cases to decrease.

The new Chicago landlord should remember that 7% eviction rate, though. While good, consistent screening and record-keeping will help keep you on the lower end of the spectrum, every lease you sign has a 7% chance of winding up at the 1st District courthouse. The good landlord doesn’t cross their fingers and hope that fate passes them by. The good landlord knows the odds and takes preventive measures to make sure they’re ready when the inevitable occurs.

If you’re enjoying the eviction series, please click the share button and spread the word. This series will continue with an investigation of the two different types of eviction filings – Forcible Entry and Joint Action. Is there any difference in success rate? Which is the more popular case type? We’ll find out next Monday. See you then!

This is part of a series on Chicago evictions. You should probably start at the beginning. Here are the rest of the articles: