TULSA, Okla. — CARES Act protections have ended, meaning many renters served evictions during the moratorium are now faced with the reality to pay up or move out.
Some, however, are questioning whether their eviction notice during the pandemic was lawfully filed if their property was listed as covered by the government mandate.
As it turns out, it could depend on where you live and the judge you're assigned to in court.
A 2 works for You investigation combed through piles of documents. Each affidavit held the fate of an Oklahoma renter facing an eviction judgement during the pandemic.
"I found at least seven and a half percent of all those evictions that went through at that time,” said Eric Hallett with Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma. “More on CARES act covered tenancies, most of them because of section eight."
Tulsa County was once considered to have the eleventh highest rate of eviction in the country.
"It's a scary story,” said Katie Dilks, executive director of Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation. “Tulsa has a long history of having high rates of eviction."
However, that ranking may not be the case now. Dilks said those numbers are down largely in part because of the protections of the federal CARES act, which halted evictions for half the rental properties in the city.
“In a nutshell, it covers any property that has a federally backed mortgage,” she said. “So that's any mortgage that's backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac."
Knowing whether your property is covered isn't always easy.
“It actually can be quite difficult, and sometimes attorneys even have trouble doing it,” Hallett said.
He argues tenants not knowing their rights allows them to easily fall victim to eviction.
“In some instances, it is because the tenants aren't aware that they're covered,” Hallett said. “But other times, landlords know that they're not supposed to do this, and they do it anyway because if you're not there to complain, the court won't know to stop it."
A 2 Works for You Renters' Rights investigation found several rental properties filed evictions during the moratorium, even when they were listed as covered by the CARES act.
Hallett said this practice is against the law.
“The law on this area says that if you are a covered property, you cannot ask for late fees or file an eviction,” he said. “And then the law lays out a list of which properties are covered properties... If you participate in the housing choice voucher section eight program, then you are covered."
Other attorney's, like Blaine Frierson, said some of those affidavits were filed incorrectly by the landlord.
“These are very complicated affidavits that the Supreme Court is requiring us to use,” Frierson said. “Sometimes there have been mistakes made. They've checked they’re a covered property when actually they're not.”
Frierson went on to say that attorneys cannot file evictions on covered properties for non-payment of rent.
When a property has a federally backed mortgage, all tenants received CARES act eviction moratorium protections. However, a Problem Solvers investigation reveals there's a dispute over whether all tenants get those protections if the complex doesn't have one of those mortgages but does accept housing vouchers for specific tenants.
“You can't split up the property half and half."
Others said this isn't the case, and if it were, landlords would be in a tough spot.
“Landlords on a many, many cases have not been paid since March 1, and what people really need to realize here is that most all of these landlords and the tenants… these are business contracts,” Frierson said. “And when the tenant doesn't pay his rent or her rent for three to four months, or now it's running into five months, the landlord has to have some remedy."
Frierson said the matter all boils down to a Housing of Urban Development memo, which states in part:
“… the CARES act only applies to the voucher holder. HUD does not have the authority to extend jurisdiction over unassisted tenants or the property that does not have a federal backed mortgage."
That memo has the CARES act being interpreted very differently depending on who hears the case.
“This came out pretty quickly without any notice and without much instruction because it's passed by congress, and we're having this effect in the State Court,” John Williams with the Oklahoma Bar Association said.
In the end, it appears it all comes down to where you live and how your county's judges interpret the law.
“Some courts generally, including Tulsa so far, have really interpreted that to only be a protection for the voucher holder,” Dilks said. “So, if you are a voucher holder, you are protected by that moratorium, but your neighbor who doesn't have a voucher is not, according to the interpretation of this judge."
A trip down the turnpike to Oklahoma City could yield a different outcome.
"However, some judges in Oklahoma City are interpreting it in the other direction to read it to protect the entire building,” Dilks said. "It’s really just been up to the courts to decide what the law means in their courtroom."
The law for now isn't black and white and would take an appeal to the State Supreme Court to get anything set in stone to interpret the law consistently statewide.
Attorneys can agree on one thing. No matter the outcome of your eviction case, if a notice was filed against you, it goes on your record, and evictions cannot be expunged. This could impact your chances of finding a rental property willing to give you a lease.
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