Evictions on hold in Dayton. But ‘surge’ is coming.

CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Eviction filings in Dayton Municipal Court plummeted after the court postponed civil hearings during the coronavirus pandemic, and the court recently pushed back eviction hearings again, until next month.

But housing advocates and landlord representatives say this is just temporary and evictions likely will surge locally and across Ohio when hearings resume and cases can move forward following record job losses, business closures and other economic shocks.

“Many tenants were already living on the edge and this pandemic is going to push them over the edge,” said Matthew Currie, managing attorney with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality in Dayton, which provides legal assistance to low-income residents.

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Some housing advocates, elected leaders and apartment and realtor associations are calling on Congress to approve emergency rental assistance for low-income and laid-off Americans to prevent what they say could be a tidal wave of evictions that could be worse than the Great Recession.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, this month announced new legislation that would provide $100 billion in federal funds to help keep renters in their homes.

Renters certainly are in trouble, but so are landlords, who are at risk of losing their properties if they aren’t paid what they are owed and can’t cover their own bills, some say.

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On March 12, Dayton Municipal Court issued an administrative order rescheduling all civil hearings, including evictions, through the end of April.

Recently, the court pushed back eviction and other civil case hearings until June.

Eviction filings in municipal court have plunged during the coronavirus lockdown.

There were 40 filings between March 13 and 31, and 41 in all of April, according to municipal court data. That’s down more than 77% from the same periods in 2019.

But attorneys who represent landlords say many clients are holding off on filing eviction actions until courts get closer to reopening.

Evictions are on hold after courts hit the pause button, but rent is still owed and payment will come due, and there could be a large increase in evictions in the near future, said Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio.

“Those pauses, I think, are helpful but it really only delays the inevitable, which is people have to pay their rent,” Faith said. “The rent doesn’t go away — there is no rent holiday — that money is still owed to the landlord and will have to be paid sooner rather than later.”

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In Ohio, about 4% to 5% of renters are subject to an eviction action each year even though not all actions lead to removal, and that was in a good economy with very low unemployment, housing advocates say.

Unemployment is skyrocketing right now, and the vast majority of people who lost their jobs during the pandemic work in low-wage industries, and low-wage workers tend to be renters, Faith said.

Dayton resident Dejanee Coaston faces eviction in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court for nonpayment of April rent.

Coaston, whose case is set for a hearing June 9, said her landlord filed an eviction action in Common Pleas Court because Dayton Municipal Court postponed its cases.

Coaston, 28, who rents a home on Dennison Avenue, said her hours were slashed at her fast food job when the crisis hit and dine-in eating shut down.

Coaston, who recently found a new job, said she offered to pay partial rent, but her landlord refused.

Coaston and her daughter were displaced when the Memorial Day tornadoes destroyed their apartment building, and she does not want to have to move again.

“I don’t need an eviction on my record,” she said. “I would be sad to go because I really like this house and my daughter does too.”

For many families, rent is their largest monthly expense, and many households already were severely cost burdened before the crisis, said Graham Bowman, staff attorney with the Ohio Poverty Law Center.

Bowman said legal aid attorneys across the state are preparing for a surge in evictions and related housing issues.

“Current eviction moratoriums are scheduled to expire throughout the state in the next month or so,” Bowman said. “We are predicting that once those expire we will see an escalating number of evictions as stimulus payments and enhanced unemployment benefits fade away.”

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Faith, Bowman and other affordable housing advocacy groups have urged federal lawmakers to approve funding for emergency rental assistance for low-income and unemployed tenants.

Without rental assistance, the coronavirus shutdown could spark an eviction epidemic even worse than the foreclosure crisis of 2008, Bowman said.

Sen. Brown has unveiled the Emergency Rental Assistance and Rental Market Stability Act of 2020, which would provide $100 billion in federal funds to help people pay the rent and utility bills, his office said.

The bill would also help rental property owners of all sizes continue to cover their costs, including necessary maintenance expenses to protect residents’ health and safety, his office said.

“The last thing we want during a public health crisis is people being forced out of their homes and onto the streets,” Sen. Brown wrote on Twitter announcing the legislation.

The postponement of eviction hearings may be helping tenants, but it’s hurting landlords who have no hope of recovering the money they lost in unpaid rent, said Larry Lasky, an attorney at large in Dayton who represents landlords, including the one who has filed the eviction action against Coaston.

When the courts halted evictions, landlords could not force out and replace non-paying tenants with renters who actually pay their monthly obligations, he said.

Many eviction cases that have yet to be heard predate the pandemic, and eviction hearings need to resume as soon as possible to prevent landlords from falling behind on their bills and potentially losing their rental properties to foreclosure and bank action, he said.

Eviction hearings can be held in a safe way by staggering cases, holding the hearings in open spaces where people can socially distance and requiring visitors to wear masks, Lasky said.

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