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Keeping shelters in place: Understanding landlord

decision-making during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Summary results from the survey are now available. Click here to explore the survey results.


This study investigates how the unique characteristics of the US housing system, and in particular landlord decision-making within that system, are contributing to rental housing instability during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our overarching research question asks: What factors are influencing the decision making of residential rental property owners during the COVID-19 pandemic? Our unit of analysis is the landlords themselves – not their properties, not their tenants, but the property owners. Using local rental registries to create our samples, we sent surveys to property owners in four mid-sized US cities: Minneapolis, MN; Cleveland, OH; Tampa, FL, and Des Moines, IA. We will use these findings to illustrate how landlord decision-making is shaping rental housing stability during the current pandemic and to further the scholarly understanding of the role of landlords in disaster-related housing stability and recovery more generally. This study has been funded by the National science Foundation and the Polk County Housing Trust Fund.


The study focuses on four mid-sized US cities: Minneapolis, MN; Cleveland, OH; Tampa, FL, and Des Moines, IA. Importantly, each provides unique state and local responses to the COVID housing crisis. We selected these cities based on several criteria. First, we identified cities with municipal ordinances that that require landlords to register their properties with city (commonly known as rental registries). Without these registries, identifying rental properties and the owner contact information would be cumbersome and time consuming, making it difficult to complete this phase of the study in a timely manner. We then looked for cities with diverse populations, housing markets, and housing stocks. Minneapolis has an open source rental registry database with landlord contact information, making it an ideal case for this study. Prior to the pandemic, the city had been experiencing population and employment growth, which contributed to rising housing prices and a corresponding shortage of affordable housing. Cleveland, in contrast, has experienced decades of decline and population loss. As a result, the city has widespread problems of housing vacancy and abandonment. Cleveland is also a majority Black city. Tampa expanded our geographic scope outside the Midwest and brought in a city with a significant tourism aspect to its economy.


The overall study includes three components: (1) an online survey of landlords and property managers; (2) follow up interviews with select willing landlords and property managers from the initial survey; and (3) interviews with local planners, public officials, landlord association representatives, and other policy stakeholders to collect their understanding of rental housing problems in the city and local landlord responses to those problems. This dashboard provides findings from the survey component of the research.


This research is supported by a COVID-19 rapid response grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF 2050264) and Polk County Housing Trust Fund.