Longer Trips to Court Cause Evictions
63 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2022 Last revised: 11 May 2023
Date Written: June 8, 2022
Studying ~200,000 evictions filed against ~300,000 Philadelphians from 2005 through 2021, we focus on the role of transit to court in preventing tenants from asserting their rights. Over the time period, nearly 40% of all tenants were forced to leave their residences because they didn't show up to contest cases against them. An important driver of that result is easy access to the courthouse. Controlling for a variety of potential confounds at the tenant and landlord level, residents of private tenancies with longer mass transit travel time to the courthouse are more likely to default. A one hour increase in estimated travel time increases the probability of default by between 3.9 to 8.6 percentage points across different model specifications. The effect holds within landlords, when controlling for the direct distance to court and even weekend travel time. However, it is absent in public housing evictions, where timing rules are significantly laxer, and during Covid-19, when tenants had the opportunity to be present virtually. We estimate that had all tenants been equally able to get to court in 10 minutes or less, there would have been 4,000 to 9,000 fewer default evictions over the sample period. We replicate this commuting effect in a dataset of over 800,000 evictions from Harris County, Texas. These results open up a new way to study physical determinants of access to justice, illustrating that where a courthouse is located---and its relationship to urban transit---can affect individual case outcomes. We consequently suggest that increased use of video technology in court may reduce barriers to justice.
Keywords: eviction, default, access to justice, transit, housing, procedure, instrumental, poverty, race, service
JEL Classification: K41, K11, I30, R41, R31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation