Ruling: Franklin County landlords can’t evict tenants without appearing in court

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Yellow facial mask laying on top of the eviction note

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — For the first time in 32 years, Franklin County tenants will not be evicted by affidavit after the Tenth District Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that landlords cannot evict tenants without appearing in court.

“When a family loses stable housing, everything is thrown into chaos,” said Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther “This decision represents real and tangible change to a system that disproportionately impacts single women, especially women of color. I am grateful to the Columbus Women’s Commission and the Legal Aid Society of Columbus for their diligent work on an issue that has become even more critical in the time of COVID-19.”

Landlords will now have to bring witnesses to court to testify and prove their case. Housing advocates believe that the rule change will lead to more opportunities for landlords and tenants to negotiate settlements that will benefit both parties. 

“We are very excited by the outcome of this case,” said Kate McGarvey, executive director of the Ohio State Legal Services Association. “We anticipate that the new requirement for landlords or property managers to appear in person to give testimony at eviction hearings will lead to more settlements and more opportunities for both parties to utilize the many resources, including Legal Aid, Impact and Community Mediation that are available at the courthouse to prevent homelessness.”

The decision overrides a long-standing policy in eviction court that allowed landlords or property managers to plead their case via affidavit instead of presenting live testimony during a trial.

The ruling follows an appeal filed by LASC in August 2019. Legal Aid represented Traci Wimberly who was evicted from her Canal Winchester apartment during a court hearing where neither she nor her landlord were present. Legal Aid argued that landlords have to present live witness testimony at trial just like any other plaintiff involved in a court proceeding. 

In its decision, the Tenth District Court of Appeals found that the rules of court requiring live testimony apply to eviction cases. Eviction judgments can no longer be issued based only on testimony by affidavit alone.

Last year, there were more than 18,000 evictions filed in Franklin County — one of the highest rates of eviction in the country.

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