Judge Jeff Wentworth sits in the courtroom at Bexar County Justice of Peace, Precinct 3.
Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Jeff Wentworth. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Evictions in San Antonio have increased more than 25 percent since 2000, and nearly doubled between 2013 and 2016, new data from the Eviction Lab at Princeton University shows.

There were 9,848 evictions in renter-occupied households in San Antonio in 2016, an average of 27 evictions per day for a rate of four evictions per 100 homes annually. San Antonio is 68th among the top 100 cities with the most evictions, according to the data, which ranks cities by the percentage of evictions taking place per 100 households in one year.

The eviction rate is calculated as the proportion of renter-occupied homes in an area that received an eviction judgement in which renters were ordered to leave, according to the Eviction Lab’s methodology. The rates are calculated for each census tract, a geographic boundary used by the U.S. Census Bureau. Data was collected from formal eviction records in 40 states over a 10-year time period.

Many situations can lead to evictions, said Bexar County Justice of the Peace Jeff Wentworth, who presides over a handful of eviction cases every day for Precinct 3, which covers much of San Antonio’s North Side.

Wentworth described eviction cases ranging from situations in which parents seek to evict an adult child from their home to people falling behind on rent because they lost a job or became ill.

“The most common thread that runs through most of these cases is that someone loses a job, or they get cut back on their hours,” he said. “A surprising number of them say, ‘I’ve just been diagnosed with cancer.’ These cases are pretty heartbreaking.”

Over time, areas of San Antonio with the greatest number of evictions have shifted from parts of the inner city to much of the South and East sides outside Loop 410, the data shows.

Eviction rates in 2016 were highest in Pecan Valley on the city’s Southeast Side, rising 375 percent since 2000. Eviction rates were also high along Binz-Engleman Road on the city’s Northeast Side in 2016, according to the data.

“When I go to eviction court, it’s packed to the gills,” said James Meyrat, a local attorney who represents tenants in eviction cases. “Four years ago it was not so bad. It was a half courtroom full, now it’s standing room only.”

In Meyrat’s experience, some apartment complexes use bait-and-switch tactics to prey on what he called “subprime” renters – those with bad credit or who have been evicted before – by incentivizing them to sign a lease, then evicting them on sometimes minor infractions after receiving a down payment, first month’s rent, or security deposit.

“Evictions used to be failure to pay rent. Now it’s so much more,” he said. “Unauthorized occupants, a so-called dangerous dog, or they didn’t get a parking tag on time. … I figure it’s a low-margin business.”

Part of the problem, said Meyrat, is the Texas Property Code, which outlines the process of eviction and tenant rights.

The Texas Tenant Advisor, a product of Texas Housers, an Austin-based nonprofit that provides informational resources to renters in the region, describes a five-step eviction process based on the code.

If a tenant ignores a notice to vacate a property after violating terms of the lease, then the landlord can file a court petition. The court then determines whether the landlord should give the tenant some leeway or proceed with an eviction.

A judgment of eviction/FE&D at Bexar County Justice of Peace, Precinct 3.
A judgment of eviction/FE&D at Bexar County Justice of Peace, Precinct 3. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Once an eviction notice is mailed to the tenant, he or she has five days to leave the property. If the tenant doesn’t vacate, the landlord can return to court to obtain a Writ of Possession, which allows police intervention to forcibly remove the tenant and his or her belongings from the property.

In 2019, the City of San Antonio’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department will create a fund that assists with issues such as evictions that cause displacement, according to Verónica Soto, the department’s director.

“For next fiscal year, a risk-mitigation fund to assist with displacement issues caused by eviction or other means will be available to expand whom we serve and the kind of service,” Soto said.

In the event of a landlord-tenant dispute, the City of San Antonio’s Fair Housing Program provides services to rental tenants including mediation and investigation of housing discrimination complaints.

Based on the rising rate of evictions, those services may be increasingly in demand in the coming years.

“Some judges have 40 cases in a matter of two to three hours,” Meyrat said. “The cases go quicker. There’s only three questions that get asked.

“Before [tenants] know it, they’re a day late and a dollar short.”

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Emily Royall

Emily Royall is the Rivard Report's former data director.