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As affordable housing crisis continues, informal evictions harm Idaho renters

House Keys and Eviction Notice
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House keys sitting on an eviction notice received in the mail.

Local governments should track informal evictions and advocate at the Legislature for better tenant protections, writes guest columnist Nicolette Clark.

According to the Idaho Policy Institute, in 2021, Idaho averaged three evictions per day, which is an increase of 11% from 2020. Although these numbers are lower compared to pre-pandemic evictions, they don’t include informal evictions, such as landlords threatening or intimidating tenants, absent of the legal process. Idaho law defines “self-help” evictions to include actions like turning off utilities, confiscating a renter’s property or changing the locks.

No one knows how many informal evictions happen in Idaho, so it’s impossible to see who is affected in our community by this kind of eviction. Self-help eviction is looked down upon by courts because it avoids the legal eviction process. When landlords intimidate or threaten tenants, low-income renters can’t just move out and into another place. It’s hard to know how to advocate for yourself. To fairly participate in the housing market, the Idaho Legislature should hold landlords accountable when they abuse their power over renters like me.

I found a unit in Nampa, where I attended college and returned to teach at my alma mater, Northwest Nazarene University, during the height of the pandemic. Housing and jobs were scarce. I found a unit for $850 a month, including utilities. The first few months were easy, but I received warnings from my neighbors to watch out for our landlord.

In summer 2021, I learned why. My landlord texted me that the air conditioning would be shut off because the bill was too high. The temperature outside topped 100 degrees. My neighbors and I stayed up until 3 or 4 a.m., until it was bearable to go back into our units. We were scared to speak up because of the reasonable rent price, so we stayed silent and endured those sweltering nights together.

The following December, we had the opposite issue. My unit was freezing, and my neighbors began using their oven for heat. When I asked our landlord to turn the heat back on, my landlord texted me: “You complain too much and are ungrateful. Why can’t you be like the other tenants?”

With the lows in the 20s, sleeping with my dog in my bed was the only way to keep warm.

My landlord emailed me to get out of the unit. She knew in this market, she could find someone else immediately who would shut up regardless of the condition of the unit. Even though by asking for the rights I’m due, according to the Idaho Landlord and Tenant Manual published by the Attorney General’s office, in this market, it didn’t matter.

I was working multiple minimum wage jobs, including adjunct teaching, applying for scholarships and preparing my law school application. My dog made it harder to find a new affordable place. My landlord said she would begin unlawful detainer proceedings if I wasn’t out. I did not have enough money for the first and last month’s rent elsewhere.

I often reflect on what could’ve been my reality if I didn’t have a community in the Treasure Valley to tide me over in finding a new place, or parents who were willing to take in my dog.

Landlords have power and when they abuse it, they create more housing insecurity and homelessness. Without friends and family, I would have become homeless simply for asking for proper heat and air conditioning. Local governments should track informal evictions in our community and advocate at the Legislature for better tenant protections, including for informal evictions. Until there are policy solutions for renters like me, donate to Jesse Tree to help keep families housed and provide legal services to families facing eviction.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state.