Despite an overall decrease in the number of evictions in Connecticut during the pandemic, one type of eviction — the “no-cause” eviction, typically involving expiring lease agreements — has become increasingly common.
From August 2019 to February 2020, there were 992 no-cause evictions filed, about 9% of total eviction filings. From August 2021 to February 2022, there were 2,511 no-cause evictions filed, nearly 35% of total filings, according to data from the Connecticut Fair Housing Center.
No-cause evictions typically involve expiring lease agreements, when the landlord wants the renter out and didn’t make any claims of tenant fault, such as violation of the lease or missing rent payments.
A bill that passed through the Housing Committee earlier this month aims to do away with the practice for larger properties. House Bill 5233 would ban evictions without cause in buildings with five or more units or in mobile home parks and extend requirements that rent increases be fair and equitable to covered tenants.
Rent has spiked in Connecticut and nationally in recent months, which experts say is due in part to a lack of supply.
House Bill 5205, which also passed through the Housing Committee, would establish fair rent commissions in all towns with populations of 25,000 or more. These commissions would have the power to conduct studies and investigations and hold hearings.
Supporters say the eviction bill would keep people who haven’t done anything wrong in their homes.
“I believe that we find a solution that works for all our communities, and this is a bill that will simply make sure there is equal voice between property owners and tenants,” said Rep. Quentin “Q” Williams, D-Middletown.
But landlord advocates say no-cause evictions are used to keep the peace at complexes by evicting tenants who bother their neighbors or to clear apartments for remodeling when tenants’ leases end. Opponents have also said the bill would violate property owners' rights.
Evictions can have consequences that ripple beyond the loss of a particular apartment — disrupting social connections and school routines and harming mental health, studies have shown.
“Displacement of tenants has so many ramifications in people’s lives,” said Luke Melonakos-Harrison, a tenant organizer in New Haven.
Once an eviction is filed against a renter, it can also make it much more difficult for them to find a new place to rent in the future, experts have said.
“I think one of the biggest benefits [of the bill] is that if people know that they can’t be evicted unless there is a reason, it allows them to enjoy a level of housing security that often doesn’t exist for tenants otherwise,” said Dahlia Romanow, a staff attorney at the Connecticut Fair Housing Center.
Housing advocates say no-cause evictions have been used as retaliation to evict people who complain about sub-par living conditions or who try to form tenant unions.
John Souza, a Hartford County landlord and president of the Connecticut Coalition of Property Owners, said he uses no-cause to improve other tenants’ experiences at his complexes. It’s a last resort, in part because filing an eviction is expensive, he said.
“I don’t do it lightly. I do it because I have no other choice,” Souza added.
Souza said he thinks the number of no-cause evictions has gone up because of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order banning most nonpayment of rent evictions from September 2020 to August 2021. Connecticut also had state-level protections against such evictions.
Nonpayment of rent is among the most common reasons for eviction. The federal government instituted the ban to prevent a wave of evictions and slow the spread of COVID-19 by keeping people out of congregate living settings such as homeless shelters.
The statute that the bill on no-cause evictions would change was instituted in the 1980s to require cause to evict the elderly and people with disabilities.
In written testimony on the bill, Souza said there is no other type of business “forced to renew a contract against their will, so why force housing providers?”
The Connecticut Realtors also opposed the bill, saying that many property owners put their rental properties on the market only for a set period of time.
“Disallowing any property owner from having the rights to make any decisions about their own property at the end of a contractual term is an encroachment on property rights,” the written testimony said.
Melonakos-Harrison said since he began working in tenant organizing, he’d seen no-cause evictions used as a tool to get union members out of their apartments and to keep people from complaining about living conditions. He said the bill would help even the balance of power between landlords and tenants.
“When that threat of eviction can be wielded by landlords, it scares a lot of tenants, even if they are living with really egregious living conditions,” Melonakos-Harrison said.