Landlords in Oklahoma City are still filing for courts to execute eviction orders even with the courts closed due to COVID-19. But, renters still have rights and options.
On March 24, 2020, Governor Stitt ordered that all district courts close and remain closed except for emergencies until May 15th.
In response, the Oklahoma County Sheriff is not executing lockouts “until further notice.”
That has not stopped landlords from pressuring renters (“tenants” in legal terms) to move out for not paying. Some are still sending “vacate” letters even though the courts are closed and not issuing any eviction orders.
But, a Legal Aid of Oklahoma attorney says that because of the pandemic situation, “It’s impossible to have a legal eviction in Oklahoma County right now.”
A Growing Problem
Oklahoma City was already ranked 20th in the nation in evictions prior to the pandemic COVID-19 which caused the closure of many businesses around town.
Unemployment claims have reached record numbers for the past two weeks in Oklahoma. As more and more Oklahomans find themselves in financial turmoil the number of evictions in Oklahoma County continues to rise.
District Courts are currently closed and will not reopen for non-emergency cases like evictions until May 15th, but that does not stop landlords from filing eviction claims.
Don’t just move
Even if a renter receives an eviction notice or their landlord shuts off utilities, they should call Legal Aid or their own attorney before doing anything else.
Just because a landlord writes a letter to vacate does not mean a renter has to move at this time.
Kristin M. Siegel, a local attorney with Legal Aid of Oklahoma, talked to Free Press about what tenants need to know if their landlord tries to evict them.
“It’s impossible to have a lawful eviction in Oklahoma County right now, but that doesn’t mean that bad actors, certain landlords, might try to bully people out,” said Siegal.
“We’re trying to encourage people to call legal aid so we can map how these things are happening across the state, and then address these things on a case by case basis.”
During the period between March 15th and April 7th Oklahoma landlords have filed 1,160 evictions with the court, but with the courts closed the claims will have to wait until they reopen.
Sheriff PD Taylor released a statement on March 17, 2020, stating “I have suspended all writs of execution (lockouts) due to the public health emergency until further notice.”
Renters have options
In Oklahoma a landlord must use the court system to remove a tenant from their property. Self-help or informal evictions are not legal.
While many other states have put into place protections or moratoriums on evictions Oklahoma still has not explicitly done so, meaning evictions that are filed now will still be waiting when the courts reopen.
The CARES act provides even more protection for renters that rely on public funding for part or all of their rent and for people living in houses where the mortgage is federally backed postponing all evictions until July 25th at which time a landlord must send a letter with the required 30 days notice before being able to file eviction paperwork in the court.