Due to the economic crisis, since 2008, millions of people throughout the world have lost their homes or been threatened with eviction. The current coronavirus pandemic has once again caused a global rise in the threat of eviction. To what extent do national and international legislation and human rights laws protect people from the serious impact of a measure like being evicted from their homes? Professor of Public Order Law Michel Vols from the University of Groningen has been awarded an ERC Starting Grant to carry out research into this subject. This € 1.5 million grant is awarded to excellent researchers as an incentive for pioneering research in Europe.
Vols: ‘The extent to which people are protected from eviction varies per country. In the Netherlands, for example, you cannot simply be evicted from your home. The decision must be made by a judge, or sometimes by a mayor. In Great Britain, however, it’s relatively easy for a landlord to make this decision without any kind of substantive legal assessment. Yet international human rights legislation on housing actually gives people more protection. International law, for example, states that national courts are obliged to check that vulnerable people are offered alternative housing. The precise meaning and consequences of international human rights regarding housing are still too vague when implemented in national legal practice. They certainly don’t mean that you can simply walk into your local council office and demand a house. So what do they mean? What type of protection can people expect? My project aims to provide clarity in this respect.’
Vols: ‘The huge number of evictions means that I can use a data-driven approach for my research, which is unique in the legal world. There are over 10,000 eviction cases per year in the rental sector in the Netherlands alone. This equates to a lot of court rulings. Until now, lawyers have always tried to study these rulings on a one-on-one basis. For this project, I will analyse rulings just like big data, using computers: what incites a judge to evict someone from their home? We will use computer algorithms to try to predict when a judge will allow an eviction and when not. I think this will be possible because we have successfully predicted rulings made by the European Court of Human Rights in the past.’
‘If we manage to predict rulings correctly in this study, it will be interesting to identify the predictors. Do the predictors identified by the computer make sense, and can they be linked to human rights on housing, for example? Using the patterns that we discover in the rulings, I want to be able to conclude whether the law successfully protects tenants, and then explain why or why not.’
So, as well as needing a lot of legal knowledge, this study also needs people who know about data and machine learning. The research team therefore includes lawyers and data scientists. In addition, Vols is working closely with the Department of Computational Linguistics in the Faculty of Arts at the UG.
European Research Council
is the most important European funding organization for excellent ground-breaking research. Every year, they select and finance the very best creative researchers of different nationalities and ages to head projects in Europe. The ERC offers four key grant schemes: Starting, Consolidator, Advanced and Synergy grants, plus the additional Proof of Concept grant scheme.
EVICT project website:
This article was published by the Faculty of Law.
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