'Hello Landlord' Seeks to Reduce Evictions

June 26, 2019

'Hello Landlord' Seeks to Reduce Evictions

TUCSON, Ariz. — The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, BYU Law and SixFifty, a subsidiary of the law firm Wilson Sonsini, today announced the release of Hello Landlord – a free web-based tool that helps tenants communicate with their landlords about issues that can lead to eviction.

This nationwide resource is a result of a semester-long collaboration between UA Law's Innovation for Justiceprogram and BYU's LawX Legal Design Lab, which share a commitment to addressing pressing legal service issues with innovative products and solutions.

In 2016, more than 2 million people in the U.S. were evicted from their homes. According to Eviction Lab, Tucson is a top-25 evicting city, with less than 20% of tenants appearing in eviction proceedings, 90% appearing without counsel and 96% of cases resulting in eviction judgments against tenants. Lack of legal representation is also an issue in Utah, with a 15:1 defendant-to-lawyer ratio in the state.

Hello Landlord is available for free in both English and Spanish at www.hellolandlord.org. Through the software, tenants can generate a letter about a missed rental payment or a problem with their rental. Developed by the BYU and UA students, and built on SixFifty's automation platform, Hello Landlord features simple, guided questions such as "What is your landlord's first name?" and "Why can't you pay rent?" The software generates a letter that clearly and respectfully explains the tenant's situation and proposes a solution. Nearly 90% of the landlords who have previewed the tool said they would be willing to work with the tenant to resolve the problem if they received a similar letter.

"As we train the next generation of lawyers, we want to instill the notion that going to court is not always the solution," said Kimball D. Parker, LawX director and president of SixFifty. "When it comes to evictions, the adage 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' certainly applies. 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."

At the beginning of the fall 2018 semester, 10 Innovation for Justice legal design lab students and five LawX students were tasked with utilizing a design- and systems-thinking framework to develop one or more scalable solutions to increase housing stability for tenants in underserved communities by reducing the frequency of eviction.

The students observed more than 220 eviction court proceedings and spoke with dozens of stakeholders, including judges, landlords, tenants, social services providers, attorneys and journalists. They found that by the time a tenant is served with an eviction notice, the eviction process in both Arizona and Utah is too rapid and rigid to afford an opportunity to stabilize the rental housing at stake. In many states, there are few legal defenses available to tenants once an eviction lawsuit has been filed.

The students were interested in developing a solution that could increase the likelihood that tenants and landlords would resolve issues that can lead to evictions. Specifically, students were interested in targeting a communication gap they observed between tenants and landlords, in which tenants felt powerless to reach out to landlords when at risk of missing a payment or experiencing a problem with a rental property, and landlords felt that tenants did not reach out to try and resolve payment or rental issues.

"Eviction is a national crisis, and the ripple effects of an eviction are devastating to families and communities.  We went into this challenge knowing that we wanted to design a scalable, bilingual, jurisdiction-agnostic solution that could positively affect widespread change," said Stacy Butler, director of the UA's Innovation for Justice program. "For most people, that eviction notice is the last chapter in a much longer story about systems failure. We hope that by spreading the word about this new access to justice tool and making Hello Landlord available to as many people in as many states as possible, we can encourage communities to think preventatively about the justice gap."

Researcher contact:
Stacy Butler
James E. Rogers College of Law
Media contacts:
Tracy Mueller
James E. Rogers College of Law
Alejandra Cardenas Cuestas
James E. Rogers College of Law
The University of Arizona, a land-grant university with two independently accredited medical schools, is one of the nation's top 50 public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report. Established in 1885, the UA is widely recognized as a student-centric university and has been designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. The UA ranked in the top 25 in 2018 in research expenditures among all public universities, according to the National Science Foundation, and is a leading Research 1 institution with $687 million in annual research expenditures. The UA advances the frontiers of interdisciplinary scholarship and entrepreneurial partnerships as a member of the Association of American Universities, the 62 leading public and private research universities in the U.S. It benefits the state with an estimated economic impact of $4.1 billion annually.