Originally published on March 25, 2020 at WTOL.com
TOLEDO, Ohio — Right now, the question at the top of every renter's mind is whether they can get evicted if they can't afford rent while living in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic that led leaders all over the world to order people to stay home.
While the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced an immediate relief plan last Wednesday for homeowners across the country, suspending all foreclosures and evictions for the following 60 days, efforts to protect renters have been limited to the local level.
"Right now, the stay-at-home order doesn't really give any direction on what is going on with the state of eviction law. I believe the order is silent and it's causing municipal courts, which are the courts responsible for overseeing eviction hearings, (be at) their discretion what they are going to do moving forward with evictions," said Kayleigh Burden, a Toledo attorney who specializes in tenant and landlord disputes.
While cities like Cleveland and Detroit have issued moratoriums on eviction orders, meaning landlords can't file a notice in housing courts, other cities have allowed them to continue to file cases, but are holding back on scheduling hearings. That includes Toledo Municipal Court.
So, technically, yes. Renters can get evicted depending on which municipality they live in and the actions being taken there. In other instances, they may not get evicted right now, but the court order may come in a few weeks or months.
Toledo Fair Housing Center Director of Public Policy and Community Engagement Sarah Jenkins said local leaders are doing a good job and HUD's relief for homeowners indirectly benefits renters.
But there is still a need to have broader state or nationwide guidance in terms of prohibiting evictions and long-term financial assistance so people can get back on their feet, Jenkins said.
"Let's say this crisis passes in a few months and things get back to normal. Obviously we don't know that at this point, but let's say that happens. What happens then, when somebody is faced with three months of rent due all at one time," she said. "So, how do we provide financial assistance to make sure people can continue to keep a roof over their heads and maintain housing even as this crisis, hopefully, starts to resolve?"
Jenkins added statistics in Toledo showed people having difficulty affording housing even before the current crisis, which only adds to the burden.
In fact, according to a recent analysis from the Fair Housing Center, between September of 2014 and September of 2018, 24,000 evictions were filed in Toledo Municipal Housing Court, which translates to roughly 10% of the town's population.
"So, compound that with a potential loss of employment and bills piling up, there's going to be a need for some kind of financial assistance to prevent people from being displaced," she said.
What if I can't pay my rent?
If you are having issues making your rent, here are a few pieces of advice from Burden and Jenkins:
- Know your rights: If a landlord wants to evict you, they can't just take self-help measures and change the lock or put your property on the side of the road. Burden said even in the middle of all the craziness surrounding this pandemic, there are still legal procedures landlords have to follow.
"I've been advising a lot of callers that they (landlords) can't just throw you out. And if they do, there are ways to get compensated for that, although it's going to take a while now because all these civil cases are being put on the back burner until further notice," Burden said.
Also, it's important to remember that notice from your landlord is different from an official court order. So, if you do receive a verbal or written notice, you can either contact an organization such as the Fair Housing Center or an attorney to make sure that what they are doing is proper.
- Talk to your landlord: If you know you will struggle to pay rent, Jenkins advised you to reach out to your landlord and have a conversation to find out if they are willing to work with you.
If after this conversation your landlord tries to take action, you can reach out to a private attorney or a legal-aid organization, such as the Fair Housing Center or Legal Aid of Western Ohio.
- Look for financial assistance organizations: Jenkins said if you are experiencing financial hardship overall, there are organizations in the Toledo area, such as United Way, that can help you with paying rent and other needs.