TULSA COUNTY — The ongoing eviction battle in Oklahoma rolls on, even as legal experts and data analysts look for solutions to prevent homelessness.
A 2 News Oklahoma investigation found more than 38,000 evictions filed in the state between March of 2020 and July of 2021. Of those, a little less than half ended with a tenant being put out of their home.
If the tenant isn't actually evicted, why go to court? Legal experts call it, among other things, a business model for making money.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought financial hardship to many Americans. People lost their jobs, and many could no longer pay their rent. To prevent a surge in homelessness, an eviction moratorium went into effect to keep those financially affected by the pandemic from being evicted.
Those protections come to an end on July 31. Fear of eviction, however, in Tulsa County, is nothing new.
"Before the pandemic, Tulsa County had the 11th highest eviction rate in the nation among large cities,” Eric Hallett with Legal Aid of Oklahoma said.
He said prior to the pandemic, 1,200 evictions were filed every month in Tulsa County, a majority of those coming from complexes 2 News Oklahoma investigators found to appear again and again on Oklahoma's eviction court dockets.
"The vast majority of the evictions we see are not those mom-and-pop landlords based in Tulsa getting their retirement income,” Ryan Gentzler with the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said. “It's these large corporations that are filing by far the majority of these filings.”
For instance, Cobblestone Apartments, the top eviction filer in Tulsa County between 2019 and 2020, is managed by TMC Property Management - a company headquartered on the Redondo Beach Pier in California.
Court data shows Cobblestone Apartments filed 629 evictions, ranking it not only Tulsa County's highest eviction filer from 2019 to 2020 but also in the state.
TMC Property management released a statement that said it does not profit off evictions. The $150 eviction filing fee that is passed through to the resident is a direct cost to the company for the attorney to file the eviction.
It goes on to state that since the 2019-2020 data was collected, the Cobblestone Apartments made several changes in operating procedures, such as accepting FLEX payments for residents, accepting over $26,744 in rental assistance money and waiving hundreds of dollars of late fees and legal fees to assist in payment of past rent.
TMC said updated data shows in January of 2021, Cobblestone Apartments filed 41 evictions for non-payment of rent. Shortly after, in February of 2021, a new Community Manager was hired and the Director of Operations was tasked with improving operations. The eviction number was reduced to 13 tenants facing an eviction filing in June of 2021. Twelve of the 13 residents were able to stay in their apartments.
TMC Management's other properties in Tulsa, Huntington Hollow and Lincoln Glens Apartments take the number four and six spots for high volume filers during this time, Huntington Hollow filed 327 and Lincoln Glens, 303.
"Unfortunately, we have some companies whose entire business model is filing dozens and dozens of evictions each month,” Gentlzer said.
Gentzler said that means management companies are getting paid by filing evictions on as many people as possible.
If your paycheck is late, and you can't make rent, you could still face an eviction filing even if the landlord doesn't intend to kick you out.
Gentlzer said typically the landlord will dismiss the act of eviction, but tenants will still be forced to pay not only what's due in rent, but extra costs such as late rent and legal fees.
Roni Amit, Director of the Terry West Civil Clinic at the University of Tulsa College of Law, said it's a cycle that harms more than the tenant.
"That means they are basically stuck, and they can't go anywhere else,” Amit said. “So that's hurting local landlords as well, who don't have this tenant base and local landlords, understandably, they're reluctant to rent to someone who has an eviction filing on their record."
Vista Shadow Mountain Apartments in Tulsa comes in at the number two spot for top eviction filers in Tulsa County between 2019 and 2020 with 454 evictions filed.
Tulsa County Assessor property records show it's managed by a company in New Jersey called CityR. The complex made headlines recently for not only owing to the city more than$100,000 in utilities, putting the tenants at risk of a water shut-off but also for what some City leaders call "deplorable living conditions". The Fire Marshal did deem the apartments a hazard and all tenants were forced to move out.
These numbers give legal experts a glimpse into the future after the eviction moratorium expires.
“Starting Aug.1, all of these thousands of families that have been protected by the moratorium will no longer have protection, so we are going to see lots and lots of people suddenly become homeless,” Hallett said.
According to "Open Justice Oklahoma,” a project launched from the Oklahoma Policy Institute, between 2019 to 2020 more than 22,000 small claims evictions were filed in Tulsa County. That's almost 42 percent of the evictions by just 53 landlords.
2 News did reach out to the management groups for comment on their eviction filings but have not heard back
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