HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Eviction filings are hitting new highs in Texas.
Dallas, San Antonio and Houston are experiencing an increase in filings from landlords looking to force out renters. It comes in the wake of the end to government bans and dwindling relief dollars.
KHOU 11 Investigates took a closer look at the troubling trend that doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
Mark Bundage has spent the last five years making his apartment home for himself and his teenage son. But the pandemic has not made it easy.
“Last year was a hard year. I contracted COVID ... had a reduction in (work) hours. I even had to quarantine a couple of times because I was exposed by other people,” Bundage said.
Bundage got rental relief through the Texas Rent Relief and Harris County. It was just enough to help him get back on his feet. But then he was thrown a curveball.
“A landlord from a sister property told me that Texas Rent Relief took the money back,” Bundage said.
That’s because if a person is approved by multiple programs, they cannot accept assistance from more than one program for the same month. Bundage said he didn't know that.
“I was speechless because I did not understand. How am I going to come up with $4,200 right away?” Bundage said.
Bundage now finds himself in a courtroom facing eviction.
Crowded courts with landlords trying to evict tenants are common now. The CDC moratorium that blocked most evictions ended and funds to help people are drying up.
Eric Kwartler started the Eviction Defense Coalition, an organization of volunteer attorneys who help guide and represent people through the eviction process.
“We’ve long described what was coming as a tsunami of evictions,” Kwartler said.
Kwartler said he does not see conditions improving anytime soon.
Harris County publishes its eviction filings online. KHOU 11 Investigates looked at the number of cases filed before the pandemic, during and after.
In January 2020, there were 6,351 evictions filed. The cases dropped significantly during the CDC’s moratorium on evictions (September 2020). But months after it was lifted (August 26, 2021), eviction filings picked up to more than 6,800 cases, surpassing the number of cases filed before the pandemic.
“I don’t think we’re at the peak. There are always going to be fluctuations, but we’re going to see more and more evictions," Kwartler said.
Kwartler is one of many volunteers working to help. Maricarmen Dollar supervises the evictions unit at Houston Volunteer Lawyers.
“The number of individuals that need representation are increasing every day, every week. It’s exhausting,” Dollar said.
The attorneys believe the solution lies with the state legislature.
“More protections for tenants ... more rent relief. The number one way to fight nonpayment of rent eviction is dependent rent. So, more money, more rent relief,” Kwartler said.
Bundage is hoping that relief will come sooner than later. The judge gave him 60 days to come up with the money he owes his landlord.
“I can apply with the Harris County Assistance program, but it’s randomly picked. So, that’s what I’m banking on now, which is a huge rolling of the dice right now to stay in my apartment,” Bundage said.
Bundage’s goal is to stay put.
If you are facing eviction, there is help. If you get a notice to vacate, you don’t have to move out right away. The only way you can be removed from your home legally is by a constable. That can’t happen until an eviction lawsuit has been tried in court.