Tenants, landlords urge reform on Oklahoma’s eviction laws

October 2, 2020 GMT

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma lawmakers have come under pressure from advocates for tenant and landlord rights to reform the state’s eviction laws.

Oklahoma courts last year handled 44,612 eviction cases, with more than 1,200 tenants a month receiving eviction notices in Tulsa County alone, according to Tulsa World. Tulsa has the 11th highest eviction rate in the country.

“Eviction is a pox on both houses,” Michael Figgins, the executive director of Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, told a House of Representatives committee hearing Thursday. “It’s not helping anyone.”

Figgins recommended three legislative changes: allowing eviction records to be expunged after a certain amount of time; extending how long tenants have to respond to an eviction notice; and giving tenants a right to legal counsel during an eviction hearing.

Tracy Streich, a property manager who testified on behalf of landlords, told the committee that eviction only becomes an option after all other options have been exhausted, and that the tenant usually bears responsibility when a case reaches that point.

Statewide, 5% of landlords — mainly large property companies — filed more than 60% of eviction cases last year.

The Legislature could standardize rules for evictions, which vary from county to county, Streich said.

“What is a reasonable late fee? What is a reasonable amount of time to wait for someone to catch up?” he asked. “If we knew what the rules were going in, I think it would cut down on the frivolous evictions.”

And though the coronavirus pandemic has helped reduce the number of evictions since the state shutdown caused courtrooms to close, officials say 40 million people nationally and 500,000 in Oklahoma could face eviction due to high unemployment and other economic consequences from the pandemic.

“There won’t be a single Oklahoman that doesn’t feel the effects of this crisis,” said Becky Gligo, housing policy director for the city of Tulsa.