COLUMBUS (WCMH) —The Franklin County Municipal Court has put a hold on eviction hearings for the next eight weeks.
Landlords will be able to fill out paperwork and get the process started as normal, but the hearing to determine if you will be evicted won’t be held yet.
Right now there are more than 850 cases pending and more are expected to be added to that list as more and more people lose their jobs due to the global health crisis.
It is estimated that between 40-50 percent of renters live on low income and losing a job is devastating to their ability to make ends meet.
The Honorable Ted Barrows, Administrative Judge for the Franklin County Municipal Court, explained what this situation means for the court, renters and landlords alike.
“I think everyone has to take a step back from the immediate circumstance of the situation, think through the consequences of what they had in mind and try to figure out if there’s a way to come out on the other side in better shape,” Barrows said.
One of the biggest fears renters have right now is being kicked out of their home. That cannot happen in Franklin County because of what the court has decided to do.
“Forcing a person out of their residence without going through legal process isn’t a legal thing to do,” Barrows said.
Renters cannot be physically forced out of their homes by their landlords, nor can they be intimidated. A resident living in a community in north Columbus says he has seen the company that manages his complex take the doors off of apartments when people don’t pay their rent.
“People need to take a step back as we’ve done at the court from our normal way of doing business and our normal way of seeing the world and look at it through the lens that has been brought to us by this pandemic,” Barrows said. “Everything is not the same as it was a month ago and things are still changing as we speak.”
If you feel like your rights are being abused as a renter you can check out the Legal Aid Society of Columbus’ website. Also check out the document at the bottom of this story for specific information related to the COVID-19 Pandemic and how it affects you.
As for landlords, Barrows pondered about why they would want to evict someone now amidst a crisis; and he says they may want to think long and hard about that decision.
“If a landlord wanted to evict an otherwise good tenant for not paying rent, who did they expect to come and rent that house? Because there is more and more people out of work on a daily basis. And it may be that a landlord would prefer to have a good tenant who was temporarily unable to pay their rent, as opposed to having a vacant house that might be subject to vandalism.”
He also had advice for tenants who find themselves in a tough spot financially and unable to pay rent because they have just lost their job.
“If it’s a landlord that they’re comfortable with dealing with, they can say, “I’ve just lost my job, I’ve applied for unemployment, I will not be able to pay you the rent this month, but I understand the obligation to pay and I want to get right with you.” All of us can reasonably expect that three or four months from now, we’ll be on the other side of this,” said Barrows.
In the meantime there is hope on the horizon. Some apartment associations are looking for ways to help their renters financially, and the Federal stimulus package was just approved by Congress.
The money may not get to renters in time to pay on the first of the month, but it will be coming as soon as President Trump signs the bill into law.
No matter what the source is, money flowing into the pockets of renters who are barely getting by will help a lot of people. Renters will be able to pay their bills; landlords will be able to avoid taking their renter to court; and the court will have fewer cases to hear when this is all over.
“Anything that we can put in to keep the landlord from effectuating a set out or help tenants to pay the rent is going to help smooth the level,” said Barrows. “It’s not going to solve all the problems, but it’s gonna help us get through to the other side.”
The Franklin County Municipal Court released the following order:
LANDLORD/TENANT ISSUES DURING COVID-19
COVID-19 has forced numerous societal changes, many of which have raised questions about housing stability. Normal eviction procedures have changed, and additional resources may be available to those affected by the pandemic. Below is an outline of answers to questions related to housing instability in this uncertain time:
- The Franklin County Municipal Court will not hold eviction hearings from March 16 until at least May 11.
- If you have a pending eviction case, the court will send you a new court date in the mail. You can also check online at fcmcclerk.com
- If your landlord files a new eviction case against you during this time, the court will schedule it for a court date eight weeks from the day your landlord files it.
- The court will not set out tenants from their residence until May 11. Your landlord may not attempt to remove you without the court’s assistance. If your landlord does attempt to remove you, either physically or by shutting off your utility services, you should call the police non-emergency line at 614-645-4545 and the Legal Aid Society of Columbus at 614-241-2001.
- While eviction hearings are suspended, you still have an obligation to pay rent as normal. If you are not able to keep up with rent payments, you should talk to your landlord and attempt to reach an agreement in writing. If you need assistance with your rent, you can apply for up to $1,500.00 from PRC through Franklin County Job & Family Services by emailing an application to FRANKLIN-CDJFS-Verifications@jfs.ohio.gov.
- Unemployment Insurance benefits have been expanded. The normal waiting period for such benefits has been waived in many cases. If you have lost work due to COVID-19, you can apply for benefits here: unemployment.ohio.gov
- If you have questions related to your specific situation and landlord/tenant law and would like to speak to an attorney, you can call the Legal Aid Society of Columbus at 614-241-2001.
The situation is rapidly changing and further announcements continue to come from the Statehouse. This information is accurate as of March 18, 2020, but more questions are likely to be answered as time passes.