The courts will be back in session May 15 and when they are the day of financial reckoning for some renters and mortgage holders will arrive.
Lost jobs will not magically come back Friday and business is expected to return slowly due to continued fears of contracting the novel coronavirus that is causing COVID-19.
But, there are steps you can take to stay in your home or apartment. It will take preparation for courts opening again in May.
In short, find a lawyer now.
Your lawyer is the difference
For Oklahomans facing eviction, Executive Director of Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma Inc. Michael Figgins has this advice, “The bottom line is, if you have a lawyer chances are you are going to retain that house, if you don’t you are probably going to get evicted.”
Oklahoma is a state with laws that heavily favor landlords and give few protections to renters. Those laws are about to come into play again after having been put on hold during the COVID-19 crisis.
Oklahoma ranks 0.08 stars out of 5 according to a list published by Eviction Lab that grades states on their housing instability.
Oklahoma City specifically was ranked 20th in the nation in evictions prior to the Covid-19 crisis, and with record numbers of Oklahomans who have lost their jobs, many still waiting on unemployment, many more Oklahoma City residents are searching for help.
A virtual town hall regarding evictions and foreclosure was hosted Tuesday by city council members JoBeth Hammon from Ward 6, James Cooper from Ward 2, and Nikki Nice from Ward 7.
Their guests were Michael Figgins, Executive Director of Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma Inc., Jennifer Montanga, a lawyer with Legal Aid, and Richard Klinge from Oklahoma City University Law School’s Pro Bono Housing Legal Assistance Program (HELP).
The CARES act has some protections for people in government-subsidized housing and people who live in housing with a mortgage that is federally insured. It is important not to make assumptions about your own situation though.
“It’s so important to call a lawyer at this time”, said Klinge.
Klinge went on to explain that the law was written hastily and that it leaves a fair amount of room for argument about who is and is not covered.
While none of these cases have gone to court yet, it is hard to say what may or may not work, but with a lawyer’s help eviction may be avoided.
All the lawyers in the town hall urged people to contact a lawyer as early as possible to have the most time to prepare an agreement and maybe be able to avoid having to go to court.
It is important for property owners to understand their rights under the CARES act, especially if they are renting their house to others or are in a situation where they are being threatened with foreclosure.
The same protections regarding federally backed housing apply to you if your mortgage is federally backed.
“A lot of people have no idea that their mortgage was sold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.” Jennifer Montagna said at the town hall.
You can check the status of your mortgage on the web, both Fannie Mae at https://www.knowyouroptions.com/loanlookup and Freddie Mac at https://ww3.freddiemac.com/loanlookup/ have online tools to check.
The OCU Law Pro-Bono Housing Eviction Assistance Program can be reached via phone at (405) 208-5207 and does not have any income or legal status requirements.
Anyone who lives in Oklahoma County can seek help from Legal Aid regarding evictions, problems with their stimulus check, or other legal issues that have cropped up during the Covid-19 crisis. They can be reached at their website here: https://www.legalaidok.org/. Legal Aid cannot assist undocumented persons.
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Corrections: We originally listed Richard Klinge as being with Legal Aid. He is with Oklahoma City University Law School’s Pro Bono Housing Legal Assistance Program (HELP). We also corrected information about who Legal Aid and the HELP program serves. The current version of this report reflects the correct information.