COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — When it comes to relieving the strain of a housing crisis in central Ohio, affordability is just part of the battle.
Nearly 31,000 evictions have been filed in Columbus since March 15, 2020. While cases might tell a different story, many of those stories were due to unemployment during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the job market has improved significantly over the past year, even those who have since returned to a steady paycheck are being haunted by eviction filings and largely shut out of the housing market– even if the eviction filing was dismissed in court.
NBC4 first spoke with Katrina Strong in spring of 2021. The single mom was out of work in order to take care of her youngest children, who had to attend school virtually from their Whitehall home.
Rental assistance payments from IMPACT Community Action kept the family afloat until Strong was able to return to work as a truck driver.
“The kids are doing great in school,” Strong said. “I am so glad they are back in school because that has helped me to be able to go back to work.”
Unfortunately for Strong, getting help with the rent didn’t come without its challenges. Setting up payments led to what her landlord called “miscommunications” at the time.
“He filed an eviction on me two times,” Strong said. “During the two times he filed for eviction, he was waiting on a payment from IMPACT.”
Both of those evictions were dismissed, and Strong’s family got to stay in their home on month-to-month leases, although the ordeal put a strain on Strong’s relationship with her landlord. He let her know last week he’s declining to renew her lease.
Strong found other homes that fit her budget but found herself continually rejected by the owners of those properties.
“Even though these evictions were dismissed,” she said, “A lot of realtors or private landlords or even apartments – they won’t even allow me to be into their habitat without that eviction being at least seven years old.”
“The average homeless person in Columbus is not someone begging on the streets– that we think of the stereotype,” said James Mackey, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Columbus. “It’s a working mother with children who has plenty of income for rental housing, but has an eviction on a record and is struggling to find approval because of that. A lot of people think of an eviction as just an immediate crisis that puts a person’s housing in jeopardy at that moment. But with the current rental housing market we have here in Columbus, we’re really seeing sort of a lifetime of consequences due to eviction filing.”
Mackey said eviction filings, regardless of circumstance or outcome, are public records for at least seven years.
Just one filing on a prospective tenant’s background check is enough of a red flag for a landlord to move on to the next applicant.
“Right now, the rental housing stock is just such a tight market that landlords really have the ability to be picky about who they rent to,” Mackey said.
Mackey suggests trying to rent through a small, private landlord who’s easier to communicate with, instead of a big leasing company.
So far, Strong says she hasn’t had much luck with that.
“I feel like with COVID situations– I just feel like that should be thrown out,” Strong said. “I feel like we should get a second chance.”
Matthew Huggins, vice president of FABCO Tenant Screenings and Rental Collections, said 80 to 90% of eviction filings in Franklin County are dismissed before they are enforced, often because a tenant leaves before they are forced out.
Huggins said while it is possible to seal an eviction case on Franklin County’s court website, it still does not prevent someone from seeing that the eviction was filed. He suggested that sealing the record can, in many cases, reduce the accuracy of a background report.
“We will report the disposition, if possible,” Huggins said, pointing out that he has multiple clients willing to rent to tenants who have an eviction filing on their record.