Posted June 15, 20202:00 pm
The Cleveland Housing Court on Monday will resume eviction hearings and start accepting new cases for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic forced it to shut down.
The court, which hears the most housing cases of any in Cuyahoga County, stopped evictions in March when it became apparent that having many people in a room together for hearings at the Justice Center presented a public health hazard. Since then, the economic fallout from the pandemic led many to predict that the nation will see staggeringly high numbers of families thrown out of their homes for not paying their rent or mortgage and large number of eviction cases filed in the local court.
People out of work who cannot pay their rent can also affect landlords, especially small business owners, as they continue to owe taxes and other fees for their ownership of the property.
"This is going to be a real crisis for our community," Legal Aid Society of Cleveland managing attorney Abigail Staudt said. "We are going to have a lot of people who need our help."
A reporter on Thursday requested to speak to somebody from the Housing Court to talk about what they expected next week. A court spokeswoman did not fulfill the request by the time this story published.
Housing Court Judge W. Mona Scott wrote in a June 4 order that the clerk would only accept 125 new eviction cases a day. The court will then schedule hearings for 30 days later.
Cases filed after the clerk hits its limit will be held over for the next day. A single landlord or firm can also only file 25 a day, including no more than five for reasons other than a tenant not paying rent, according to the order.
The court, which has a backlog of about 1,000 cases, also plans to hear 125 eviction cases a day, with the bulk occurring virtually via Zoom, Staudt said. Those without access to Zoom can inform the court, and the court will hold the hearing in person the day after it was originally set, she said.
Court staff has also set up a system to submit evidence before a hearing.
Staudt expressed concerns about how tenants may fare with the new restrictions and adaptations the court undertook.
Chief among them was the court’s use of Zoom, a necessity in the age of social distancing. Judges in many courts have expanded their use of online hearings during the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean it will go smoothly, especially for people not used to it, she said.
Online hearings may also impede the ability for them to be public.
Staudt said she feels the court will be receptive to issues that may arise. However, “I think it’s going to be a painful growing experience,” Staudt said.
The state said in May that the unemployment rate for the previous month was 16.8% and that the state lost 823,000 jobs as a result of the pandemic. It said Thursday that it had received more than 1.3 million traditional unemployment claims over the past 12 weeks.
Staudt noted that the Legal Aid Society has fielded inquiries not just from lower-income families, but clients who face eviction from higher-end apartments because of this recession’s unpredictability. Some programs offering rent assistance are in the works in Cleveland, though advocates feel that won’t be enough.
“Even careful people who have some savings, they can’t maintain it when industries haven’t opened up again,” she said.