Evictions in a pandemic

See updates through June 8, 2021, at end of post.


The Alden South Hills, managed by Aion Management, where I presently live, made the news for a batch of evictions last October despite a ban due to the pandemic.[1] But it became apparent to me that the Alden has been hard at work in an ongoing effort to evict people when I found materials on my doorstep offering resources to folks facing eviction[2] and this is now confirmed.[3]

Before the pandemic, the owners of The Alden were already among the county’s top filers of eviction cases. They filed 266 cases in 2019, according to a report by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services and The Pittsburgh Foundation. That placed them fifth among landlords, behind three public housing authorities and the Brandywine Agency, which manages 3,500 rental units throughout the county.

“We’ve always had a certain percentage of delinquency at this property. It historically is a little bit higher on delinquency than our other Pennsylvania properties,” says [Robin] Flagler.

The Alden’s owners prevailed in 87.2% of their 2019 eviction cases, according to the report, while the rest were withdrawn or settled. The defendants won none.[4]

Aion Management president Robin Flagler claims the Alden tried to work with tenants. Of course she does. And, to be fair, I saw lots of communication early in the pandemic that the Alden would try to work with people. I’ve seen no such communication more recently.

While it makes up 0.5% of the county’s rental units, The Alden accounts for nearly 4% of the pandemic-era eviction cases in Allegheny County.

The eviction filings reflect “residents who have ignored our inquiries, have ignored our phone calls, have ignored our emails, and we’re trying to get them on track,” says Robin Flagler, president of Aion, in a Monday interview. “We have over $500,000 of outstanding rents at The Alden. It’s a lot of money to collect.”

PublicSource and WESA spent March 3 with five Alden tenants who face eviction. All were less than two months behind on rent. Some documented ongoing, partial payments.[5]

Flagler doesn’t explain why the Alden is so exceptional in a county (Allegheny) that has lots, and lots, and lots of apartments occupied by the working poor.

“And then, unfortunately, you also had the residents that took advantage of COVID,” [Flagler] says. “They said, ‘OK, COVID’s here, eviction moratorium. I’m not going to pay at all.’” She says some “owe almost a year of rent.”

None of the 37 tenants against whom the landlord filed this year appear to meet that description. Court filings show that their rental debts, at the time of the filings, ranged from a low of $335 — less than half of that tenant’s monthly bill — to a high of $1,906, which was just over two and a half months of that resident’s rent.[6]

Flagler’s comments are consistent with a tone I found in communications from property management from the day I moved in. It was clear to me that they think their tenants are deadbeats.

I’ve since seen a lot less of that tone, but nonetheless:

Overall, 2020 eviction filings in Allegheny County were down 60% from the prior year. The housing authorities have reduced (but not eliminated) evictions. Brandywine edges out The Alden’s ownership in terms of total eviction cases.

But The Alden’s filings make suburban ZIP Code 15236 the top in Allegheny County for eviction cases. [Ralph] Kaiser’s court, where all of The Alden’s evictions are heard, is ground zero for hearings.

Kaiser says he’s postponing most of the landlord-tenant cases, due to the Centers for Disease Control’s order barring evictions under certain circumstances. He adds that his office has worked hard to let tenants know about rent assistance that is available to them.[7]

There is, of course, the sheer injustice of expecting people to pay rent when they’ve lost their jobs through no fault of their own, that led Bernie Sanders and others to call for rent cancellation and a moratorium on evictions early on,[8] an injustice that has since been the source of worry throughout the pandemic,[9] an injustice that comes on top of the discrepancy in available resources, including legal resources, between landlords and renters, that enables landlords to pursue evictions even when they’ve been banned and even to challenge the bans themselves,[10] an injustice reflected within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.[11]

But evictions exacerbate all the health issues associated with inadequate or nonexistent housing, including as people are either left homeless or as they move in with friends or relatives into overcrowded households, raising the risk of further contagion,[12] which is presumably why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is getting involved with eviction bans.[13] To evict people is, quite potentially, to kill them or vulnerable people they are forced into close quarters with or otherwise exposed to as a result.

To evict people under these circumstances is inescapably, blatantly, and homicidally to value property over human life. That to do so is not regarded as or treated as criminal is yet another example of the discrepancy in justice between rich and poor.[14] It is yet again, to offer human sacrifice to the capitalist god.[15]


Update, May 3, 2021: So if I’m understanding the story correctly, that is, in a way the reporter seemingly does not intend, Schenectady’s mayor recruited a bunch of Guyanese migrants to be slumlords. And now these slumlords are having trouble collecting the rent,[16] because tenants who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic aren’t earning any money to pay them.[17] These guys aren’t big corporations that find it easy to challenge and evade eviction restrictions.[18] But they’re far from saints:

“It’s a disaster, but what can we do? ” [Romeo] Budhoo said, and the other landlords started talking about how they dealt with delinquent tenants. Some were trading cash for keys. Some were cutting off their own heat or vandalizing their houses, hoping to make them so uninhabitable that tenants would leave. Others had stopped renting out vacant properties during the moratorium, believing it was better to lose income than to risk taking on a tenant who couldn’t be forced to pay.

Then one of the landlords started to tell the story of what he called an “involuntary eviction” that had happened a few weeks earlier in Albany, where a landlord had become incensed after trying and failing to evict his tenants for months. The landlord had broken into his own apartment early on a Sunday morning, held the tenants at gunpoint, restrained them with zip ties, hauled them out of his apartment, and then deposited them at a cemetery 30 miles from the property.

“When you kick a dog, eventually it’s going to bite,” one of the landlords said.

“That guy’s a hero,” said another.[19]

Except possibly for the kidnapping,[20] these landlords’ tactics are not unlike those being deployed around the country.[21] The simple fact is they’re capitalists. They’re losing. They’re whining. They feel entitled. They expect to be bailed out. Just like those other capitalists running fast food restaurants who think workers should be grateful for a minimum wage that doesn’t pay rent and hasn’t kept pace with productivity.[22] But the reporter, Eli Saslow, devotes most of his ink to a landlord’s whining.[23] Only a little space is given to the tenant:

Alfonzo Hill watched from inside the house until the landlord walked back to his car. “Yeah, like you need my money,” Hill said after he watched the landlord drive his Mercedes up the block, and then he came outside, lit a cigarette and sat on the porch.

He resented many things about life at 1042 Cutler: the two-foot hole in the bathroom ceiling, the lingering smell of the previous tenants’ dogs, the broken toilet that flushed only after he poured in a bucket of water. But what bothered him most was always having to repeat the same humiliations to the landlord about why he hadn’t paid, couldn’t pay, didn’t have any money to pay.[24]

Whine, mother fucking capitalists, whine. Because your investments are so much more important than human lives.[25]


Update, May 5, 2021: Three federal judges have now struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium on evictions and three have upheld it.[26]


Update, June 8, 2021: Federal aid intended to prevent evictions is being snarled by red tape, in some cases disqualifying tenants who should be eligible, and by bureaucratic delays as overwhelmed agencies fail to keep up with a flood of applications. The eviction moratorium expires at the end of June.[27] I have seen nothing further on the status of court cases challenging the ban imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; three federal judges had overturned it and three had upheld it.[28]

  1. [1]Ryan Deto, “Pittsburgh-area apartment complex The Alden South Hills seeking large-scale evictions,” Pittsburgh City Paper, October 21, 2020, https://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/pittsburgh-area-apartment-complex-the-alden-south-hills-seeking-large-scale-evictions/Content?oid=18223682
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Housing activism on my doorstep,” Irregular Bullshit, March 6, 2021, https://disunitedstates.com/2021/03/06/housing-activism-on-my-doorstep/
  3. [3]Kate Giammarise, Rich Lord, and Jay Manning, “Tenant Cities: One Day In Allegheny County’s Eviction Hotspot,” WESA, March 11, 2021, https://www.wesa.fm/post/tenant-cities-one-day-allegheny-countys-eviction-hotspot
  4. [4]Kate Giammarise, Rich Lord, and Jay Manning, “Tenant Cities: One Day In Allegheny County’s Eviction Hotspot,” WESA, March 11, 2021, https://www.wesa.fm/post/tenant-cities-one-day-allegheny-countys-eviction-hotspot
  5. [5]Kate Giammarise, Rich Lord, and Jay Manning, “Tenant Cities: One Day In Allegheny County’s Eviction Hotspot,” WESA, March 11, 2021, https://www.wesa.fm/post/tenant-cities-one-day-allegheny-countys-eviction-hotspot
  6. [6]Kate Giammarise, Rich Lord, and Jay Manning, “Tenant Cities: One Day In Allegheny County’s Eviction Hotspot,” WESA, March 11, 2021, https://www.wesa.fm/post/tenant-cities-one-day-allegheny-countys-eviction-hotspot
  7. [7]Kate Giammarise, Rich Lord, and Jay Manning, “Tenant Cities: One Day In Allegheny County’s Eviction Hotspot,” WESA, March 11, 2021, https://www.wesa.fm/post/tenant-cities-one-day-allegheny-countys-eviction-hotspot
  8. [8]Benjamin Fearnow, “Biden, Sanders demand 3-month freeze on rent payments, eviction of tenants across U.S.,” Newsweek, March 28, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/biden-sanders-demand-3-month-freeze-rent-payments-eviction-tenants-across-us-1494839
  9. [9]Michelle Conlin and Christopher Walljasper, “Time’s up: After a reprieve, a wave of evictions expected across U.S.,” Reuters, October 19, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-housing-eviction-insight/times-up-after-a-reprieve-a-wave-of-evictions-expected-across-u-s-idUKKBN27415U
  10. [10]Associated Press, “Tenants Behind on Rent in Pandemic Face Harassment, Eviction,” U.S. News and World Report, June 14, 2020, https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/virginia/articles/2020-06-13/tenants-behind-on-rent-in-pandemic-face-harassment-eviction; Regina Garcia Cano and Michael Casey, “Wave of evictions expected as moratoriums end in many states,” Associated Press, August 4, 2020, copy in possession of author; Kriston Capps, “What Happens When the Eviction Bans End?” CityLab, May 29, 2020, https://www.citylab.com/equity/2020/05/pay-rent-eviction-ban-coronavirus-housing-crisis-landlord/612277/; Kriston Capps, “Landlords Challenge U.S. Eviction Ban and Continue to Oust Renters,” CityLab, October 22, 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-22/landlords-launch-legal-attack-on-cdc-eviction-ban; John Fritze and Nicholas Wu, “Trump administration announces nationwide eviction moratorium through end of the year,” USA Today, September 1, 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/09/01/trump-imposes-eviction-moratorium-because-covid-19-pandemic/5686402002/; Sam Levin, “California landlords are locking out struggling tenants. A ‘tsunami of evictions’ may be next,” Guardian, July 30, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jul/30/california-covid-19-evictions-landlords-tenants; Eric Levitz, “This Recession Is a Bigger Housing Crisis Than 2008,” New York, July 13, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/07/coronavirus-recession-evictions-crisis-congress.html; Renae Merle, “Evictions are likely to skyrocket this summer as jobs remain scarce. Black renters will be hard hit,” Washington Post, July 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/07/06/eviction-moratoriums-starwood/; Gretchen Morgenson, “Large corporate landlords have filed 10,000 eviction actions in five states since September,” NBC News, October 26, 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/business/personal-finance/large-corporate-landlords-have-filed-10-000-eviction-actions-five-n1244711; Will Parker, “Struggling Rental Market Could Usher in Next American Housing Crisis,” Wall Street Journal, October 27, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/struggling-rental-market-could-usher-in-next-american-housing-crisis-11603791000; Jenny Schuetz, “America’s inequitable housing system is completely unprepared for coronavirus,” Brookings, March 12, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/03/12/americas-inequitable-housing-system-is-completely-unprepared-for-coronavirus/; Kyle Swenson, “Renters thought a CDC order protected them from eviction. Then landlords found loopholes,” Washington Post, October 27, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2020/10/27/trump-cdc-eviction-moratorium-loopholes/
  11. [11]Stephen Caruso, “Gov. Wolf says his executive authority has run out on extending eviction moratorium, perplexing some experts,” Pittsburgh City Paper, August 28, 2020, https://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/gov-wolf-says-his-executive-authority-has-run-out-on-extending-eviction-moratorium-perplexing-some-experts/Content?oid=17896117; Elizabeth Hardison, “Pa.’s moratorium on evictions has ended. Here’s what that means,” Pennsylvania Capital-Star, September 1, 2020, https://www.penncapital-star.com/working-the-economy/pa-s-moratorium-on-evictions-has-ended-heres-what-that-means/; John L. Micek, “Pa. is facing a wave of evictions. Two state House lawmakers have a plan to help,” Pennsylvania Capital-Star, June 16, 2020, https://www.penncapital-star.com/commentary/pa-is-facing-a-wave-of-evictions-two-state-house-lawmakers-have-a-plan-to-help-tuesday-morning-coffee/; Renatta Signorini, “As time ticks down on eviction ban in Pennsylvania, crush of court cases expected,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 8, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/westmoreland/as-time-ticks-down-on-eviction-ban-in-pennsylvania-crush-of-court-cases-expected/
  12. [12]Jenny Schuetz, “America’s inequitable housing system is completely unprepared for coronavirus,” Brookings, March 12, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/03/12/americas-inequitable-housing-system-is-completely-unprepared-for-coronavirus/
  13. [13]John Fritze and Nicholas Wu, “Trump administration announces nationwide eviction moratorium through end of the year,” USA Today, September 1, 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/09/01/trump-imposes-eviction-moratorium-because-covid-19-pandemic/5686402002/
  14. [14]Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).
  15. [15]David Benfell, “The capitalist death cult,” Not Housebroken, December 24, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/03/27/the-capitalist-death-cult/
  16. [16]Eli Saslow, “The battle for 1042 Cutler Street,” Washington Post, May 1, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/05/01/landlord-tenant-eviction-moratorium-pandemic/
  17. [17]Associated Press, “Tenants Behind on Rent in Pandemic Face Harassment, Eviction,” U.S. News and World Report, June 14, 2020, https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/virginia/articles/2020-06-13/tenants-behind-on-rent-in-pandemic-face-harassment-eviction; Regina Garcia Cano and Michael Casey, “Wave of evictions expected as moratoriums end in many states,” Associated Press, August 4, 2020, copy in possession of author; Kriston Capps, “What Happens When the Eviction Bans End?” CityLab, May 29, 2020, https://www.citylab.com/equity/2020/05/pay-rent-eviction-ban-coronavirus-housing-crisis-landlord/612277/; Andrew Khouri, “Depleted savings, ruined credit: What happens when all the rent comes due?” Los Angeles Times, February 2, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2021-02-02/rent-debt-worries-grow-covid-strains-tenants; Eric Levitz, “This Recession Is a Bigger Housing Crisis Than 2008,” New York, July 13, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/07/coronavirus-recession-evictions-crisis-congress.html; Heather Long, “Millions of Americans are heading into the holidays unemployed and over $5,000 behind on rent,” Washington Post, December 7, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/12/07/unemployed-debt-rent-utilities/; Renae Merle, “Evictions are likely to skyrocket this summer as jobs remain scarce. Black renters will be hard hit,” Washington Post, July 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/07/06/eviction-moratoriums-starwood/; Emma Ockerman, “The Tenant Uprising Is Here, and It’s Fierce,” Vice, August 7, 2020, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/7kpdyq/the-tenant-uprising-is-here-and-its-fierce; Will Parker, “Struggling Rental Market Could Usher in Next American Housing Crisis,” Wall Street Journal, October 27, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/struggling-rental-market-could-usher-in-next-american-housing-crisis-11603791000; Jenny Schuetz, “America’s inequitable housing system is completely unprepared for coronavirus,” Brookings, March 12, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/03/12/americas-inequitable-housing-system-is-completely-unprepared-for-coronavirus/
  18. [18]Kriston Capps, “Landlords Challenge U.S. Eviction Ban and Continue to Oust Renters,” CityLab, October 22, 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-22/landlords-launch-legal-attack-on-cdc-eviction-ban; Gretchen Morgenson, “Large corporate landlords have filed 10,000 eviction actions in five states since September,” NBC News, October 26, 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/business/personal-finance/large-corporate-landlords-have-filed-10-000-eviction-actions-five-n1244711; Kyle Swenson, “Renters thought a CDC order protected them from eviction. Then landlords found loopholes,” Washington Post, October 27, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2020/10/27/trump-cdc-eviction-moratorium-loopholes/
  19. [19]Eli Saslow, “The battle for 1042 Cutler Street,” Washington Post, May 1, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/05/01/landlord-tenant-eviction-moratorium-pandemic/
  20. [20]Eli Saslow, “The battle for 1042 Cutler Street,” Washington Post, May 1, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/05/01/landlord-tenant-eviction-moratorium-pandemic/
  21. [21]Associated Press, “Tenants Behind on Rent in Pandemic Face Harassment, Eviction,” U.S. News and World Report, June 14, 2020, https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/virginia/articles/2020-06-13/tenants-behind-on-rent-in-pandemic-face-harassment-eviction; Sam Levin, “California landlords are locking out struggling tenants. A ‘tsunami of evictions’ may be next,” Guardian, July 30, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jul/30/california-covid-19-evictions-landlords-tenants
  22. [22]David Benfell, “Capitalists are shameless in their entitlement,” Not Housebroken, April 18, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/04/18/capitalists-are-shameless-in-their-entitlement/
  23. [23]Eli Saslow, “The battle for 1042 Cutler Street,” Washington Post, May 1, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/05/01/landlord-tenant-eviction-moratorium-pandemic/
  24. [24]Eli Saslow, “The battle for 1042 Cutler Street,” Washington Post, May 1, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/05/01/landlord-tenant-eviction-moratorium-pandemic/
  25. [25]David Benfell, “Evictions in a pandemic,” Not Housebroken, March 11, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/03/11/evictions-in-a-pandemic/
  26. [26]Kyle Swenson, “Federal judge vacates CDC’s nationwide eviction moratorium,” Washington Post, May 5, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2021/05/05/federal-judge-vacates-cdcs-nationwide-eviction-moratorium/
  27. [27]Will Parker, “Logjams Are Keeping Much of $47 Billion in Federal Aid From Renters,” Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/logjams-are-keeping-much-of-47-billion-in-federal-aid-from-renters-11623070800; Kyle Swenson, “The eviction moratorium is about to end. Rent relief hasn’t arrived. These renters decided to take action,” Washington Post, June 5, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2021/06/05/prince-georges-rent-strike-eviction/
  28. [28]Kyle Swenson, “Federal judge vacates CDC’s nationwide eviction moratorium,” Washington Post, May 5, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2021/05/05/federal-judge-vacates-cdcs-nationwide-eviction-moratorium/