Law students at the University of Arizona have helped create an online tool they hope will decrease the state’s high eviction rates.
A semester of collaboration between the UA’s James E. Rogers College of Law Innovation for Justice program and Brigham Young University law students resulted in Hello Landlord, released on Wednesday.
Tenants nationwide who are having a problem with their rental or have missed a payment can use the free tool to generate a letter for their landlord. Available in both English and Spanish at hellolandlord.org, the site guides the user through questions like “Why can’t you pay your rent?” to explain the problem and propose a solution.
The 15 students in the program researched eviction court proceedings and spoke with dozens of people involved, including judges, attorneys, social workers, tenants and landlords. Students at both the UA and the Utah university found that the evictions process is so fast that most renters have little chance of avoiding eviction once the process begins.
Last year more than 13,000 eviction actions were filed in Pima County Consolidated Justice Court, according to Arizona Daily Star archives. In nearly three-quarters of eviction actions over the last four years, judges ruled in the landlord’s favor.
Archives show fewer than 20 percent of tenants in Pima County who are served with an eviction notice even show up to court and so lose their case by default. Only an estimated 5 percent of those who do show up have a lawyer while landlords almost always have an attorney present who specializes in housing law.
Going to court is often not the best solution, says Kimball Parker, a director at BYU Law and president of SixFifty, a law firm subsidiary that collaborated on the project.
“When it comes to evictions, the adage ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ certainly applies,” Parker said. “We found that most landlords don’t want to evict tenants and are receptive to working with those who proactively reach out. The collaboration with the University of Arizona and SixFifty has resulted in an online de-escalation tool that has the potential to help anyone who has missed rent or is experiencing an issue with the condition of their rental avoid legal problems.”
Stacy Butler, director of Innovation for Justice at the UA law school, developed the program and began the collaboration with Parker after a BYU course successfully designed a tool in 2017 that’s helping people handle debt collection cases filed against them.
Butler says students in the course, which began last fall, wanted to find a solution to a communication gap they observed between tenants and landlords after observing that tenants often didn’t know how to communicate a problem and landlords felt tenants didn’t try to resolve payment or rental issues.
Butler hopes Hello Landlord will be accessible nationwide to as many people as possible and that it inspires communities to think about prevention in solving the justice gap.
“Eviction is a national crisis, and the ripple effects of an eviction are devastating to families and communities,” Butler said. “We went into this challenge knowing that we wanted to design a scalable, bilingual, jurisdiction-agnostic solution that could positively effect widespread change.”