Anticipating a surge in evictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, housing experts are encouraging Oklahoma lawmakers to take steps to help tenants.
A right to counsel for tenants is a policy several groups have proposed, and it came up again during an interim study hosted by Rep. Melissa Provenzano (D-Tulsa) last week.
Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma Executive Director Michael Figgins said the eviction process moves quickly under state law, with a five-day notice to tenants, three to five days’ notice on a court summons, and 48 hours to leave if they lose a case.
"Time is key. Time is important to get the rent. Time is important to find somewhere else to go if you have to relocate. What about a 10-day notice to quit? Or a summons 20 days before the hearing? Or maybe seven days before you’re locked out?" Figgins said.
Figgins also said lawmakers can take a page from criminal record expungement aimed at giving people a second chance after an unfortunate mistake.
"Well, maybe we expunge or seal eviction records. Something to think about. Something that’s not going to haunt a tenant for years after an eviction," Figgins said.
Figgins and other experts say the state’s legislative branch can do more than its executive branch when it comes to evictions, but that’s not to say there’s been inaction from the governor’s office. Community CARES Partners Executive Director Ginny Bass Carl said they’ve extended the deadline for $10 million in rental assistance from the state’s federal coronavirus funding to Dec. 17 and expanded eligibility from just those with a court date.
"They’ve also added that if the tenant has a completed CDC moratorium declaration that they will also be eligible for these funds," Carl said.
In a recent study, around half of Oklahoma renters reported they were at risk of eviction in the next two months.