More thoughts on “Evicted”

A PHS 795 student came across an article that recalled our discussion of Evicted in the context of neighborhoods, social networks and health. They write:

Quality in question: Buffalo landlord is linked to multiple housing code violations in University Heights

 Evicted – a book from which we read a chapter to prepare for lecture 3 – details the magnitude of the housing crisis in Milwaukee. Millions of U.S. renters live in sub-standard housing out of fear of eviction. If tenants harp on unfilled maintenance requests, landlords evict them. If tenants withhold rent until maintenance is conducted, landlords evict them. If tenants alert authorities about illegal housing conditions, landlords evict them. You wonder why these renters stay if conditions are so awful? As told by Evicted, 1 in 4 poor renting families already spends 70% of their income on rent. Additionally, discrimination keeps poor, black, or previously-evicted families from renting safer neighborhoods.

I think this article from The Spectrum is important because it affirms that this housing crisis is not confined to Milwaukee. Poor housing conditions are endured by millions of Americans across the country. It also illustrates for those who did not digest Evicted in the past week – as I have – the type of issues faced by renters. For example, the landlord in this article blatantly disregarded his tenants’ safety, failed to fill maintenance requests, blamed his tenants for the housing conditions, understaffed for property maintenance, and passively threatened to fill the space with new – perhaps, less difficult – renters. I feel it necessary to share with my classmates that it is actually rare for landlords and property staff to be held accountable for their exploitation of tenants – as told by Evicted. As Evicted eloquently reveals, advantageous people have made millions by overcharging for dilapidated housing. There is no adequate checks to keep the needs of renters and the earnings of landlords in balance.


4 thoughts on “More thoughts on “Evicted”

  1. Thank you for sharing this article highlighting the fact that the issues brought up in the Evicted chapter are not restricted to Milwaukee, or even Wisconsin. I also respect your comments regarding equitable dispersal of power in terms of a landlord-tenant relationship.

    I’m not sure if you have lived in Madison for long, but there is also somewhat of a student housing crisis here as well. Although the issue does not center around eviction notices, it is relevant to ensuring that there is affordable housing available to students. A brief synopsis of what I have personally encountered in the rental market here, or at least down near the undergrad campus, is that students who are not living in the dorms or far off of campus generally must decide between two options:
    1. to live in a relatively new, nice high rise apartment building where monthly rent is much more than the average mortgage payment – which you can somewhat reduce by choosing to share a room, although the rooms are usually pretty small and new building codes do not require rooms labeled as bedrooms to have windows anymore
    2. or to live in very old, not well-kept houses where the landlords don’t really care about maintenance and take advantage of the fact that college students don’t have much renting experience and do not fully know their rights (e.g., how quickly a landlord must fix something, when the landlord is allowed to enter the property, security deposit refunds, etc.)

    Housing in between these two extremes can be found, however these options are disappearing as developers continue to build large high rises to meet the demands of the rental market (which has lately been flooded by young professionals, usually from Epic, that have disposable incomes to use on rent). There is a real estate class taught at UW-Madison that discusses the rental market here and some challenges that it is currently facing.

    However, the second option here relates more to your post about tenants being taken advantage of by their landlords. I have experience with this, which is why I know about the resources available to tenants. While I believe it was created for Wisconsin residents, the Tenant Resource Center is a useful group that can help tenants understand what legal safeguards do exist to ensure that the space they rent is in livable condition and that landlords do not take advantage of them:

    All that being said, there probably are some structural things that can and should change, especially loopholes that landlords can use to exploit their tenants.

    Thanks again for an interesting post!


  2. This article reminds me of what the renting environment was like in the middle 2000’s on the UW campus, and as stated by the previous post the situation has only become more exacerbated as the high end rent options increase because this pushes up the prices in the low quality rental units as well. I lived in several different old houses that had been carved up into apartments during my time as an undergrad here. The first place came with mice and no smoke detector, the third had two illegal bed rooms in the attic and another illegal bed room in the basement. Students live in places like these because there are no other affordable options. The campus area is not the only place in Madison with similar rental issues. Anyone who is looking for cheap rent is at an inherent disadvantage because the landlord knows they do not have the resources to advocate or move somewhere better. While the tenant resource center is a wonderful resource for renters this is a systemic problem that needs to be better addressed.


  3. This is a really interesting take on the matter that highlights the cost-benefit issue regarding landlords and renters. Moving is a huge pain, it’s costly, and for people with disabilities, can be nearly impossible. It can be easier to just put up with subpar housing if you’re poor and disabled, because you might not have another place to go or a way to move there. Poor tenants may be very aware of their rights, but simply have no way to have them enforced without losing their homes. In some ways, it reminds me of abusive relationships, where the person being abused stays because they fear other options are worse.


  4. Thank you for sharing this article and reaffirming what we discussing for the chapter in Evicted. I find it really interesting that this article focuses on a landlord with properties rented primarily by college students in Buffalo. This reminds me a bit of my own experiences as a renter in Pittsburgh, where I lived for four years as an undergraduate. For two years I was in an apartment of pretty questionable safety, run by a management company that consistently took advantage of tenants. Things like stairways and porches were falling apart, we often had mice or insect infestations, appliances would break, and the cost of rent and fees were very high. Maintenance requests always took a very long time, and were often ineffective. It also took over a year to get our security deposit back!

    I don’t mean to compare the overall experience of college renters to those in Evicted. In general, college students do have some means to procure different housing options whereas Scott and Teddy did not necessarily. But in both cases, the upper hand is held by the landlord. They have the advantage of a surplus of potential tenants (especially in college towns) who are willing to move in if a current tenant is unhappy. Many tenants do not know their rights, and when they do, it can be a cumbersome process to see any retribution. In this way, landlords also have the advantage of time. In many cities, including Pittsburgh and Madison, the situation for tenants is an area for great improvement.


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