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TU Law Study: Injustice in Tulsa eviction cases

Posted at 9:18 PM, Jun 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-08 23:21:13-04

TULSA, Okla. — A new University of Tulsa Law School study shows there are many justice barriers when it comes to tenants and their eviction cases.

According to the study, there were nearly 1,400 eviction cases in January. Of those cases, only two resulted in a judgment in favor of the tenant. In fact, only 11 percent of tenants who showed up were represented by a lawyer.

TU Law School Assistant Clinical Professor Roni Amit said many tenants don’t know their rights.

“In some cases, tenants would say, well why do I need to talk to a lawyer?" Amit said. "'I know that I owe this money.' So they don’t recognize that there may be legal defenses that the lawyer can raise.”

The study also shows 66 percent of tenants failed to appear at their eviction hearings in January. In some of those cases, tenants lost their home over less than $50.

“They don’t always understand what that process is about," Amit said. "They don’t really know what they’re signing. They don’t necessarily understand that the attorney they’re speaking with is representing the interest of the landlord and not their interest.”

Tulsa County District Court Judge Caroline Wall said the courts started making changes when they closed in March. Eviction cases are now heard at the Tulsa County Juvenile Justice Center. There are now only 10 cases at a time and hallway conferences are not allowed. The move also created more room for resources tenants can use.

“The June 1 relocation to the juvenile division of the courthouse included four additional rooms made available to community resource agencies that provide attorney and mediation services," Wall said.

However, Amit said the move can confuse tenants.

“Tenants don’t necessarily know that there’s a new location and so they may miss their hearings," Amit said. "And if a tenant misses their hearing and their landlord is there then they get an eviction judgment against them.”

Amit said there needs to be an increase in mediation services for tenants and legislation that is more tenant-friendly.

Wall said she and other judges make decisions based on the law and that it’s up to the legislature to change it.

“It is not the court’s duty to make law or change law," Wall said.

If you need housing assistance, call 211. Other resources include Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Still She Rises, and Tulsa County Bar Association Pro Bono Advocates.

You can view the entire study here.

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