How State Landlord-Tenant Policies Influence Renter Mobility

Voluntary, Forced, and Induced Renter Mobility: The Influence of State Policies
Megan E. Hatch
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Renters move for various reasons, but a growing body of research illustrates that the nature of the move—either voluntary, such as moving to a larger apartment to accommodate a growing family; forced, such as court-ordered eviction; or induced, such as being priced out because of a rent increase—is linked to whether the move has positive or negative outcomes for a household. The evidence suggests that to maximize positive outcomes for households, public policy should promote voluntary moves and minimize forced and induced moves. Using a new conceptual model for rental mobility, this study analyzes the effects of six state-level landlord-tenant policies on the frequency of renter mobility and explores whether variations in rates represent a change in socially beneficial mobility.

Using a combination of Current Population Survey (IPUMS-CPS) renter mobility data from 1981 to 2014 and legislative records accessed via LexisNexis, the author analyzes the mobility rates of renters and homeowners in states that did not adopt six landlord-tenant policies and in states that did, both before and after policy adoption. The landlord-tenant policies analyzed for the study include late-fee policies, security-deposit-return-time laws, utility shutoff policies, nonretaliation statutes, policies that prohibit nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and self-help policies, such as those that provide tenants with the option to conduct repairs and deduct the cost from rent or withhold rent until a critical repair is addressed by a landlord. The analysis controlled for several variables, including the respondent’s age, gender, marital status, race, educational attainment, family income, housing type, whether the respondent lives in an urban area, whether the respondent lives in public housing or receives a housing subsidy, and whether the respondent changed jobs in the previous year. The study did not control for policies and socioeconomic trends that varied across times and states, affected mobility of renters and homeowners differently, and occurred at the same time as enactment of a landlord-tenant policy. The study found that three of the policies―late fees, nonretaliation, and self help―were statistically associated with decreased mobility rates. The effects of late fees and self-help policies on reduced renter mobility were particularly pronounced when comparing states with and without these laws.

Key findings
  • Renters in states with a late-fee policy have mobility rates that were 4.8 percentage points lower than homeowners in states with a late-fee policy or anyone in states without the policy. The author hypothesizes that late fees provide renters an avenue for rectifying their delinquency before formal eviction proceedings, thus reducing involuntary mobility rates.
  • Renters in states with self-help policies have mobility rates that were 6.4 percentage points lower than homeowners in states with a late-fee policy or anyone in states without the policy. The author notes that the results of this analysis suggest allowing renters to remedy health and safety violations in their units may curb the incidence of induced moves.
  • Renters in a state with a nonretaliation law were 3.7 percentage points less likely to move within the county than homeowners in states with a nonretaliation law or anyone in states without the law. However, this result did not remain statistically significant across all models.
  • Contrary to expectations, renter mobility rates were not significantly different in states with security deposit return times, utility shutoff, and nondiscrimination because of sexual orientation. The author suggests this could be because the laws do not affect enough people or are not enforced.
  • Across all models, renters had higher mobility rates than homeowners; people living in single units were less likely to move than those in buildings with two or more units; being older, married, and nonwhite and having a college degree, higher income, and subsidized rent were all associated with lower mobility rates; and men, urbanites, and people who changed jobs in the previous year were more likely to move.

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