COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A bipartisan bill aims to help Ohio families rebuild their lives after financial hardship.
The vast majority of evictions are eventually dismissed in court, but just one filing can follow a person for at least seven years in Ohio. In a competitive rental market, applicants can easily get turned away with just one eviction filing on their record.
Lawmakers from Franklin County want to make it possible for responsible renters who fell on hard times to wipe their record clean.
“Evictions are not only a symptom of poverty, but they’re actually a cause of further poverty,” Emily Lemmerman, a research at Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, said. “They drive people into living in substandard conditions, compared to similar renters.”
NBC4 Investigates has been following the story of Katrina Strong since early 2021.
Strong, a single mother, was evicted twice while arranging rental assistance payments. She had to leave her job to keep an eye on her children while the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to attend school virtually. The evictions were dismissed once IMPACT Community Action successfully arranged assistance payments with Strong’s landlord.
With her children back in school, Strong is back at work as a truck driver. But with a lease about to end, Strong is looking for a new home for her family and struggling to do so because of the evictions.
“I need lawmakers to see people like myself,” Strong said. “We’ve been working. We had no issues prior. Just because life happens doesn’t mean that we’re bad people.”
“We’ve got to do something that helps that family to rebuild their lives,” Sen. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus) said. “So that hardship does not follow them all of their lives.”
Craig and fellow Franklin County lawmaker Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) introduced Senate Bill 158 in spring of 2021. The bill would give tenants a chance to get an eviction wiped from their record by filing a motion in court.
“(For) a lot of folks, it just takes one or two paychecks where people are displaced,” Craig said. “One crisis.”
The Judiciary Committee had its first hearing on SB 158 in September. During the second hearing in October, 10 witnesses testified – all in favor of the bill. Since that hearing, the bill hasn’t budged.
“Sometimes the legislature process moves a little slower than perhaps folks might want it to,” Craig said. “But these are serious issues – this one in particular. And my hope is to get – get this going — to get it voted on.”
Craig said he’s still having conversations to move the bill forward, as landlords have expressed concerns that SB158 could prevent them from screening out irresponsible tenants.
“I think you do need to know somebody’s payment history in order to approve them,” said Dana Moore, vice president of operations at Oakwood Management Company, which owns multiple properties across central Ohio. “It’s a large amount of money when you consider it’s a year’s contract.”
Moore pointed out Oakwood is still willing to rent to applicants with an eviction on their record, if the tenant can prove they are capable of making future payments.
“Though the rental housing industry recognizes that evictions are a difficult event for all, eviction screening is a critical tool that allows providers to evaluate risk and make decisions that will keep their properties operational, safe and secure,” said Nicole Ryan, a spokesperson for the National Apartment Association, in an email to NBC4. “Eviction screening helps keep communities safer for other residents and can also help mitigate financial risk and ensure there’s adequate cashflow to keep properties running – all but nine cents of each rent dollar goes to operational expenses that must be paid even if a resident does not pay rent. It’s important to remember that eviction history gives housing providers a more complete picture of prospective residents and is ultimately just one aspect of the application process.”
Craig argues his bill is about giving responsible tenants another chance.
“We need to be thinking about this thoughtfully, thoroughly, and venting this in a way that’s fair for all parties,” Craig said. “But the simple truth is, we’ve really got to do something regarding this matter.”