Posted August 2, 20219:57 am
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Cleveland Housing Court has announced procedures for landlords to use following the expiration on Saturday of the federal government’s moratorium on evicting tenants who fell behind on their rent during the coronavirus pandemic.
Barring the passage of 11th-hour legislation by federal lawmakers, thousands of Northeast Ohioans will suddenly be at risk of eviction, a move that worries housing advocates over the fate of potentially displaced people amid rising COVID-19 levels and the highly contagious delta strain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September 2020 instituted an eviction moratorium to help slow the spread of the virus.
Both Congress and President Joe Biden’s administration have extended it multiple times, with the most recent one in June. While landlords groups have sued the CDC multiple times over the moratorium, the Supreme Court in June voted 5-4 not to halt it while litigation was pending. But Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was in the majority, wrote that any extensions should be passed through Congress. House Democrats worked Friday to try and extend it, but the last-minute effort is expected to fail.
Many tenants have so-called “CDC stays,” which required them to deliver a written declaration to their landlord invoking the moratorium to remain in their rental property. Beginning Monday, tenants previously covered under the moratorium will be subject to eviction, Cleveland Housing Court Judge W. Moná Scott wrote in a statement.
“There was a set of facts that the tenant had to basically attest to and deliver that to the landlord,” Legal Aid Society of Cleveland attorney Matt Vincel said. “And if courts, most courts if they received notification of that, they would put a stay on a case, just to kind of stop the eviction case in its tracks and basically hold it where it is until the CDC eviction moratorium was lifted.”
The process for landlords beginning Monday requires them provide an affidavit of rental assistance detailing the tenant’s payment history during the stay and any rental assistance applications. Landlords must also have an updated rental registration if the registration on file expired during the stay, Scott said.
CHN Housing Partners has seen an increase in applicants for rental assistance during May, June and July, said executive director Kevin Nowak. CHN Housing Partners handles the rental assistance programs established by Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.
Nowak said CHN Housing Partners went from an average between 1,300 and 1,400 applications to about 1,700 for each May, June and July.
“So what we’re seeing is there already even before the moratorium would expire, we still see a continuing need for emergency rental assistance,” he said. “But then with the moratorium, what we’ve seen historically whenever there’s been a point in time where a moratorium was potentially going to expire, or there was the worry that funding was going to run out, we saw a spike in applications for rental assistance because more people became at risk for eviction. So we anticipate in the month of August that we’ll see a spike like we’ve seen in the past for rental assistance applications.”
Vincel said he expects several landlords, many of who have spoken out against the moratoriums, to pursue evictions against tenants.
“Some of them may be cases that have been held up actually in court throughout the moratorium, and some may be filed right now because the moratorium is expired,” Vincel said. “But I think it’s going to be a flood of evictions coming, and ultimately it’s going to be up to the courts as to whether they are willing to push these landlords to accept rent assistance funds to allow the tenants to stay where they’re at.”
Vincel said landlords weren’t required to accept rent assistance during the moratorium, but they couldn’t evict tenants if they declined the money. He added that if courts don’t convince landlords to accept rent assistance, many people will end up on the street, in shelters or moving in with family and friends.
Judge Deborah Nicastro of Garfield Heights Municipal Court said at-risk renters benefited from $1 million Cuyahoga County gave to the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland to represent people in eviction cases.
“And then the goal is for Legal Aid to contact the landlord ahead of time and say, ‘Hey, we think this person qualifies for rental assistance, will you go along with that?’” said Nicastro, whose court jurisdiction includes Maple Heights, Independence, Brecksville, Newburgh Heights, Cuyahoga Heights, Valley View, and Walton Hills.
While she didn’t have exact figures, Nicastro said most landlords in cases accepted rental assistance.
One of the most significant hurdles has been getting out the message that there is a process by which tenants at risk of eviction could avoid being thrown out of their homes.
“Unfortunately, even though these benefits are available, people still don’t know,” Nicastro said. “When you have the kind of things with moratoriums, sometimes the word doesn’t get to the people who need it. This way, we know, every person who has an eviction complaint against them gets that information. Whether they use it or not is their choice, of course. Because this is the problem with the moratorium from the beginning, it didn’t make your rent obligation go away. Obviously, you can’t do that as a private contract. So these people were accumulating huge amounts of back rent that then could end up with a judgment against them.”
Chloé Sudduth, director of advocacy, Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, said that nearly 6.5 million renter householdsacross the country are currently behind on rent and threatened with losing their home according to data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The NEOCH works with hundreds of Clevelanders daily who are facing housing instability and homelessness.
Sudduth and the organization have been fighting to de-congregate shelter settings to ensure the health and safety of shelter residents throughout the pandemic. Through expanded non-congregate shelter options, including rental assistance and the eviction moratorium, the NEOCH saw a nearly 30% decrease in the unsheltered population in Cleveland through the winter months and have subsequently kept people experiencing a housing crisis safe from COVID-19.
Sudduth said removing the eviction moratorium will lead to an influx of evictions, ultimately leading to more homelessness.
“We know that nationwide, and in our Cleveland community, the short- and long-term impacts of evictions and housing instability are carried disproportionately by renters of color, specifically Black women with children in the home,” Sudduth said.
Sudduth fears without the moratorium, eviction stays will be lifted on prior eviction complaints, creating more housing instability and homelessness in a community already suffering from an ongoing housing crisis.
“Our policies must protect Clevelanders and ensure sufficient time to secure rental assistance funds designated for the purpose of keeping people safe and in their homes. One year ago, Cuyahoga County designated racism a public health crisis. Now is the time to operationalize this declaration,” Sudduth said.
Ralph McGreevy, chief operation officer for Northern Ohio Apartment Association, said his clients didn’t feel the brunt of the pandemic like others. McGreevy said he doesn’t see much of an effect on his clients —large majority apartment or multifamily owners —but anticipated single-family homes and duplexes could feel some impact.
“We don’t anticipate it’s going to cause a lot of problems,” McGreevy said.
The association represents multifamily owners and members across 180,000 units in Northeast Ohio. He noted many of the tenants that his clients’ house didn’t have trouble keeping up with payments.
McGreevy said he doesn’t see it as a financial issue because the association represents large buildings in every economic category. He says that people value their homes and aren’t trying to get displaced. He said that the working partnership between the manager or owner of a property and the tenants is the most important at the end of the day.
“I see it as people working together and cooperating, on both sides of the table.”