TULSA — Eviction dockets are back open in Tulsa County and many residents are finding themselves with court dates.
Disputes between landlords and tenants have long been an issue in the city, and it’s a crisis said to have occurred way before the coronavirus pandemic.
Now that eviction cases are again facing a judge, many are in predicaments either unable to pay rent because of COVID-19 unemployment, or landlords unable to make ends meet without renter's paying up.
"I got an eviction notice in the mail just yesterday,” Nyla Gordon, a renter facing eviction said.
This is the sad reality for Gordon who lost her job during the pandemic. She said she has yet to receive an unemployment or stimulus check and is now falling on hard times wondering how she'll provide for her family.
“I'm struggling, and this is very difficult for me because I have a little child,” she said.
A recent study by the University of Tulsa is narrowing down the issue.
"What we saw is the system, because of Tulsa's high rate of evictions, the system really relies on tenants not knowing their rights and not demanding their rights,” Roni Amit, Assistant Clinical Professor of law at TU said.
Research done in January shows Tulsans living in economic disparity face a legal system weighted against them.
"Out of almost 1,400 cases, only two cases resulted in judgements for the tenant,” Amit said.
She said 65 percent of tenants don't show up to court, automatically forfeiting their eviction case, and there's a big power imbalance between landlords and tenants in the courtroom.
"The first imbalance is that around 88 percent of landlords were represented by [attorneys], and among those tenants who show up in court, only about 11 percent had representation,” Amit said.
Since 2019, more than 14,000 eviction cases were filed in Tulsa County. This year, eviction rates are down with just over 4,100 cases filed. Officials said that number is expected to rise.
The Tulsa County Deputy Clerk said greater than 98 percent of eviction cases are residential, with those renters owing their landlords $5,000 in rent or less.
Since March, renters facing unemployment got a grace period, enforced by the government under the CARES act. However, that time is up as eviction proceedings resume, and renters still struggling to make ends meet are at a loss.
"I've worked all my life,” Gordon said. “I've never been late on my rent. Always on time. I got one month behind and I called the apartments and told them that United Way was trying to help me, and I have other resources trying to help me, and they said that they don't fall under the CARES act.”
It’s not just renters dealing with eviction, on the other side of the coin are landlords relying on tenants to support their livelihood.
"We have insurance on the houses every month, and so what they pay is not totally income for us,” Dorothy Forbes, a landlord said. “We have expenses. And then at the end of the month we have a huge tax bill."
Forbes owns four rental homes in Tulsa. She said before the pandemic, she was going to evict a tenant who refused to pay rent, but then COVID-19 hit, pausing her ability to do so.
"We have been waiting now for probably 6 months to get these renters out,” Forbes said.
She adds she's lost almost $3,000, and many landlords are facing the same financial crisis.
"I am concerned, Forbes said. “We need the rent so I can pay these bills because if we don't then they put a lien on the property, and it gets worse."
Tulsa County District Judge, Caroline Wall said renters often don't know help is available.
“We’ve got three agencies onsite here now, as you've seen with the socially distance rooms, and that includes Still She Rises, volunteer attorneys that serve special needs of our community, then we have Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma,” Wall said. “Also, pro bono attorneys, and we have the Tulsa County Bar Association pro bono advocates."
For tenants, the law states you cannot be evicted without written notice. By law, renters typically have five days after a written demand for payment to settle the eviction. For those who pay monthly, renters must be given 30 days-notice before the lease is terminated, and vice versa.
Those needing help can also call 211, which offers a statewide Community Service Council meant to guide residents needing assistance.
If you find yourself in need, you can reach out to the following services for help:
Still She Rises, Tulsa - https://www.stillsherises.org/
Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma - https://www.legalaidok.org/
Restore Hope Ministries - https://www.restorehope.org/
Tulsa County Bar Association - https://www.tulsabar.com/
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