Tulsa city councilors will consider a resolution this week supporting a right to counsel for people facing eviction.
The resolution also encourages tenants, landlords, mediators and courts to find solutions that will allow time to get rent paid, including through assistance programs.
Councilors Kara Joy McKee and Lori Decter Wright are behind the resolution. They said they hope the resolution will send a message to judges and help steer more renters toward available, free representation.
Landlords have a clear upper hand. Decter Wright said there are at least a couple of Tulsa law firms that only do evictions, and more than 80% of landlords have an attorney in court.
"But only 3.5% of our tenants have representation. And so, that is not a level playing field, and that is not — I would hope — an idea of equal justice under the law," Decter Wright said.
McKee said the situation is dire with free legal aid services underutilized and a federal eviction moratorium expiring at the end of the month, eliminating a slim protection some renters may have had.
"Tsunami is a good word for it. This is a crisis looming that I wish that other levels of government, other branches of government had dealt with for us, but really, it’s coming down to us and hopefully, this will be at least one more tool that can help," McKee said.
There have been nearly 5,000 evictions filed in Tulsa County since March 15, with more than 2,200 granted, according to Open Justice Oklahoma.
In Tulsa County, eviction proceedings have continued despite district court judges shutting down in-person hearings because of the pandemic. Earlier in the pandemic, eviction proceedings were moved to the Family Justice Center, which has not been closed down.