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The idea of losing your home is scary. If a renter struggles to pay their landlord, the landlord may start the legal process of eviction. The renter has the opportunity to present their case in court, but they typically must show up in person and on time. And if they don’t? In some places, the landlord will receive a default judgment. This allows them to move forward with the eviction. 

We wondered about renters traveling to the courthouse using public transportation. Does their travel time affect their probability of receiving a default judgment? We studied 200,000 eviction cases across fifteen years in Philadelphia, PA. We found that renters with longer travel times to the courthouse are more likely to receive a default judgment in favor of their landlord. But this effect was not present during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is because renters could attend their court hearing virtually, via video call. Our findings show that the location and accessibility of a courthouse can affect the outcomes of individual cases.

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December 2023

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