CDS Moore-Sloan Fellow Co-Authors Research Study on Philadelphia Eviction Proceedings
Anton Strezhnev, CDS Moore-Sloan Fellow, has recently co-authored “Leases as Forms” alongside University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School professor David A. Hoffman. The paper, which is the first large-scale descriptive study of residential leases, was featured in MarketWatch this past March.
The team’s research is based on a dataset of ∼170,000 residential leases filed in support of over ∼200,000 Philadelphia eviction proceedings that occurred from 2005 through 2019. The team found that these leases are quite likely to include terms that are unenforceable and generally contain worse rules for tenants over time. They argue that much of this trend has been driven by the adoption of standard form leases, that are often distributed by non-profit landlord associations and, more recently, by online providers for small fees. Ultimately, it has gradually become much easier and cost-effective for landlords to adopt such forms, creating a situation where ease of access to legal resources for landlords has in turn impeded tenants’ rights.
To gain a better understanding of the pro-landlord tilt in these contracts, the team focused on four notable provisions that are commonly found in these leases, some of which are arguably unenforceable in Pennsylvania courts. They then examined predictors of whether a lease contained such provisions, focusing on the characteristics of the area in which the property was located and on individual characteristics of the tenant. They found that geography was one of the strongest predictors of unenforceable terms — renters in richer areas of Philadelphia turned out to be more likely to have these terms. However, even after adjusting for neighborhood-level characteristics, the team found that tenant race was also associated with whether the lease contained some of these provisions. According to their research, Black tenants in majority white census tracts were on average more likely to have leases that contained clauses exculpating landlords for any injury caused on the property (which are unenforceable) and provisions which waived tenant’s right to receive advance notice if eviction proceedings are initiated against them (which are legal under Pennsylvania law, but clearly advantage landlords). The evidence strongly suggests that, even within narrow geographic areas, pro-landlord lease provisions are distributed in a racially disparate manner with Black tenants getting, on average, somewhat worse leases. Overall, the findings highlight the importance of better understanding the broader ecosystem of organizations that disseminate these standardized lease templates to landlords — a topic that the research team will be investigating further.
By Ashley C. McDonald