In a new pathbreaking study, David Hoffman, William A. Schnader Professor of Law and Deputy Dean at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, and colleague Anton Strezhnev of the University of Chicago recently found that Philadelphia tenants who live further away from the city’s courthouse and rely on mass public transit are more likely to fail to show up, leading to eviction by default. Default judgments are entered against tenants who have not appeared at their eviction hearings.
Bloomberg CityLab recently published an article featuring Hoffman and Strezhnev’s work.
From Bloomberg CityLab:
A decade ago, Angela Haughton was trying to fight an eviction in court — her ex-husband had sold the house out from under her after an acrimonious divorce, and the new owner wanted her out. But on the day of her hearing, she struggled to find child care for her three young sons and ended up missing the bus she needed to catch to make the trek downtown to the Philadelphia Municipal Court in time for her appearance. Her lawyer promised he’d try to stall, but by the time she arrived, her name had already been called. She was served with a default judgment and given 30 days notice to move out.
“I feel like I could have won,” says Haughton, who spent a long time blaming herself for the tardiness that helped upend her family’s life.
But new research shows that default judgments, which are served to defendants who are late or fail to appear in court, are disturbingly common in Philadelphia. And among all the barriers tenants face in trying to prevent eviction, their experience is made even harder by one important factor in Haughton’s story: a long trip to the courthouse.
To understand why so many tenants are served default evictions, David Hoffman, a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, and Anton Strezhnev, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago, analyzed 200,000 evictions filed in Philadelphia from 2005 through 2021. For every address where an eviction was filed, the researchers used Google Maps’ API to measure how long it would take to drive or take public transit to the courthouse in Philadelphia where eviction proceedings are held… .