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Renters’ Rights: Tenant avoids eviction thanks to community resources

Posted at 11:28 PM, Jul 15, 2020

TULSA, Okla. — In Tulsa County evictions can be fast, confusing and devastating.

“You can have your tenant evicted out of their unit within 12 days,” said Eric Hallett with Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma. “It’s really scary for people who aren't legal trained and who've never been in court before."

Nyla Gordon and her 7-year-old son are among the thousands in Oklahoma trying to make ends meet in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She and her son now spend their days in their tiny Tulsa apartment. Before the virus hit, Gordon worked in a restaurant.

When she lost her job, she relied on savings to pay bills while waiting for unemployment and her stimulus check, but delays in those payments, and an empty bank account, meant no money to pay her rent.

“I’ve never been in this situation before ever, so it was very overwhelming for me,” Gordon said.

She's not alone. It's a situation so many others face right now. Because she could not pay her $536 June rent, her landlord started eviction proceedings

“I didn't know where I was going and what I was going to do… what was going to happen,” Gordon said.

Hallett said the hard part of eviction is tenants aren’t always personally served a notice.

“The landlord instead just posts a copy of the court notice on their door,” he said. “If that notice gets lost or torn down, then the tenant might not even know they have a court date."

Gordon said because she didn't know about her court date, she didn't appear, and that had big consequences.

“If a person is served by only having it posted to the door, the court will only grant possession to the landlord and won't grant a money judgement,” Hallett said. “But that possession judgement is enough for them to ask the sheriff to remove you within 48 hours."

With judgement in hand, Gordon’s landlord gave her notice she had 48-hours to pay up or be locked out by the sheriff.

“I didn't feel like I could breathe,” Gordon said. “I felt like I was holding my breath. Just the anxiety and the stress and the worry about where I was going to go with my son."

Hallett said if you miss your court date, you risk losing everything. Not knowing what to do, Gordon contacted the 2 Works for You Problem Solvers. Our team went to work contacting Restore Hope, which helps renters catch up on their rent to avoid eviction. However it already has about 2,000 applications. From there, our team contacted Family Promise of Tulsa County.

“We had to change our model,” Tina Massey, Executive Director of Family Promise said. “We use existing resources by using local congregations to house our families, but they’ve been closed down since COVID-19. We have actually expanded our program and started an apartment shelter program."

Unfortunately the program had no apartments to offer, but it did work with Restore Hope and Legal Aid.

“The number one mistake that tenants make is they don’t ask for help,” Hallett said. “And they don't ask for help because they don't know they can."

With just minutes to spare, the organizations were able to come up with the back-rent and electric bill funds, and get Gordon’s landlord to agree to let her stay. The landlord, however, didn’t have to.

“She was real lucky in that the community worked really hard and came together to make those resources available,” Hallett said. “The landlord eventually accepted that help, except it came at a cost because the landlord increased what they were owed in order for her to stay."

If you have a question about your Renters’ Rights, call the Problem Solvers line at 918-748-1502, or send us an email to problemsovlers@kjrh.com.

Here are a few other resources to look into:

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