Editor’s Note: This article corrects and replaces our previous incorrect reporting in the article “Over 400 eviction petitions filed in Oklahoma County courts Monday” posted on Monday, May 11. A key piece of information we received from a previously trusted source was wrong and therefore undermined the entire report which has been taken down. We are sorry and regret these mistakes.
When the courts open Monday, 52 eviction cases will be on the docket in Oklahoma County.
This is according to Judge Ray Elliott, presiding judge for Oklahoma and Canadian Counties who talked with Free Press by phone Thursday afternoon. The presiding judge is chosen by other judges in the respective counties to be the overall administrating judge.
Special Judge April Collins, who hears eviction cases, reported that number of cases to Elliott.
And, according to Elliott, there have been approximately 400 eviction petitions backlogged during the time the courts have been closed since mid March.
“That was 400 cases she [Collins] would have heard from mid March until now but for her docket being shut down,” said Elliott.
Elliott said that the 400 number was not abnormally high for eviction cases in Oklahoma County prior to the pandemic.
He said Collins told him that 250 to 300 eviction cases per week, “is normal and has been normal, even prior to the COVID pandemic.”
But, are they anticipating a spike in eviction cases since the unemployment rate shot up?
“She [Collins] did say she wouldn’t be surprised if we have one but she has not seen it yet,” Elliott said.
Fears from unemployment
As unemployment claims have been steadily rising in the state from jobs lost because of the pandemic, fears have been rising about evictions from those who lost jobs not being able to pay.
Unemployment claims have broken records from mid March through May climbing to approximately 400,000.
Governor not declaring moratorium
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma sent a letter to Governor Kevin Stitt April 30 asking him to use his emergency powers to declare a moratorium on all eviction actions until the end of July.
In a news conference Monday, Free Press asked Stitt if he was planning to issue such an order.
“My goal right now is to get those dollars in the hands of the Oklahomans that have lost their job we’ve had over 400,000 that have applied for unemployment,” said Stitt.
He said that if that money gets to the people who need it, that would help people pay rent and buy food.
But, for now, he doesn’t see a need for a moratorium.
“We haven’t seen that to be a big, big problem right now, but I’ll continue to monitor,” Stitt said.
Expect to be busy
Mark Myers with the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s office said that they expect to be busy once the courts start sending down forcible entry and detainer orders.
“In a normal month we average between 900 and 1,200 evictions,” said Myers.
But, if Monday’s petition numbers continue on the same trend, the evictions could be much higher than that.
Holt explores options
“We continue to explore whether we can utilize our CARES Act funding for individual assistance that could help people avoid eviction,” Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt wrote to Free Press in response to our questions about the possibility of large-scale evictions.
And the city’s water cutoff freeze for those who cannot pay is still in effect for an indefinite length of time.
But, Holt was skeptical about the city’s ability to intervene in eviction situations.
“Our city lawyers do not currently believe that in Oklahoma we have the legal authority at the municipal level to intervene in the eviction process,” Holt said. “Our lawyers believe that only the state has the authority to do that.”
Policy, not problems
Oklahoma City Ward 6 Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon told Free Press that she is concerned that even before the pandemic came to Oklahoma people saw the homeless as problems and not as people who had been affected by policy decisions.
But, now that issue could grow worse if the homeless population numbers soar.
“I fear that our non-profits will be further burdened. But, those who see people experiencing homelessness as problems won’t have had made the connection that the decision to not implement policy to protect against evictions is contributing to increased numbers experiencing housing instability,” Hamon said.
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