Pandemic, economic crisis to trigger wave of evictions, experts say

Four months into the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis, thousands of Ohioans are receiving eviction notices, telling them to pay up back rent or leave, and more notices are likely to come next month, experts say.

Evictions had been largely held at bay through a patchwork of moratoriums and a prohibition on evictions from housing that have federal subsidies or federally backed mortgages. But the patchwork expired in June and the federal moratorium expires July 25.

Add to that enhanced unemployment benefits are slated to dry up at the end of July.

“If a statewide rental assistance program is not operating soon, thousands of Ohio families will find themselves facing eviction and homelessness. Some will be forced into unsafe shelters and other group environments, which will put their health at risk as well as potentially contribute to large outbreaks in those communities,” said Ohio Poverty Law Center attorney Graham Bowman in a letter to Gov. Mike DeWine.

Attorney Larry Lasky, a member of the Greater Dayton Apartment Association who handles evictions for landlords, said many landlords have not seen rental income since February and have had no means of removing tenants who haven’t paid. Talk of extending the eviction moratorium for federally financed properties to March 2021 is unwelcome, he said.

“If that happens, you’re going to have blood in the streets. I don’t think these landlords are going to walk away from everything they’ve worked for,” he said.

Nationally, the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project estimates 25.8 million Americans are a risk for eviction by September 2020. In Ohio, 800,000 renters could be at risk for eviction and Ohio landlords will be owed $345 million in back rent by then, the project estimated.

The Ohio Poverty Law Center and more than 100 other advocacy groups have asked DeWine to earmark $100 million in federal Coronavirus Relief Funds for emergency rental assistance. Lasky said he supports the move.

DeWine hasn’t made a move on the $100 million request, but he did announce an additional $15 million for homeless prevention programs. The grant, which will go to the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, will provide rental or mortgage help for up to four months.

When asked whether he thinks more money is needed for rental assistance, DeWine said: “We’ll certainly monitor and see how things go. We are certainly open. Obviously, we have to find the money somewhere. But this is important.”

Bowman calculated that Ohio has $2 billion in federal Coronavirus Relief funds that have yet to be allocated.

Montgomery County launched a new program to help residents avoid evictions and mortgage foreclosures by offering grants of up to $10,000 to people set back financially due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A total of $10 million in federal CARES Act is being put behind the effort to help those behind on mortgage, rent and utilities payments.

Meanwhile, eviction court hearings are underway again across Ohio.

“It’s back to business as usual now,” Bowman said. He predicted that Ohio could see a cascade of evictions by late August or early September.

Lasky agreed but noted that landlords need rental income to pay their mortgages and expenses.

“It is a vicious cycle. Everybody is getting hurt here. No one is the winner. No one."

- Attorney Larry Lasky

“It is a vicious cycle. Everybody is getting hurt here. No one is the winner. No one,” Lasky said.

Bowman and ABLE attorney Matt Currie noted that Ohio could see a confluence of crises: the coronavirus is disproportionately impacting Black Americans; evictions often involve African American women; evictions are carried out by law enforcement so there could be tense situations between deputies and Black tenants.

‘I just need a little bit of time'

Mike Felver said he was laid off from a local plastics manufacturer because of the coronavirus in March. Then while he was trying to get unemployment, he had a heart attack about four weeks ago. Sitting in the Dayton courtroom awaiting his eviction hearing, the Army veteran raised his shirt to show the fresh surgical scar down the length of his chest.

Felver said he just got approved for unemployment but hasn’t received the money yet, meanwhile he is trying to get on disability. He has been able to buy food and pay some of his bills with help from family, but he’s about $3,000 behind in rent on his Dayton home.

“I just need a little bit of time,” he told Magistrate Judge Colette Moorman.

Moorman, wearing a plastic face shield, listened to his story and said she was sympathetic. “A lot of people are suffering because of everything going on,” she said.

She approved the eviction, giving Felver a week or two to get out of the house.

Sylvia Robinson, who manages Felver’s rental property, said she feels sorry for people like him. But other renters have taken advantage of the situation, she said, claiming they can’t afford rent because of coronavirus, despite receiving federal stimulus checks and extra unemployment payouts.

“There’s a lot of people receiving a lot of money, and they’re just not using it for the right things,” she said.

Tony Napier said this was the case with the tenants he was seeking to have evicted. He said they haven’t paid rent since moving in in November.

“They just found an opportunity with the COVID and decided to stay,” said Napier, who makes his living off his roughly 18 rental properties.

“Basically (if) you can’t collect the rent, you collect no revenue. You collect no revenue, you can’t pay your bills,” he said.

Eric Elam said he was sympathetic to his landlord. He lives on disability and fell about $3,000 behind in rent due to issues unrelated to coronavirus. He was also asking for more time to line up a storage unit for his stuff, knowing he will likely end up at a homeless shelter — a prospect he’s dreading amid a pandemic. He did not get the time he asked for.

“Once you get in the hole, it’s hard to get out of,” he said.

Help proposed

In Ohio, 1.5 million households rent their homes.

Ohio did not implement a statewide policy against evictions during the pandemic emergency. Instead, a patchwork of moratoriums were put into place across the state but many courts resumed eviction hearings in June. In Franklin County, the Columbus Convention Center was converted to hold eviction hearings — a space big enough to allow for social distancing and handle the volume.

The U.S. Census Bureau Pulse Survey reported that 36% of Ohio renters didn’t think they’d be able to pay rent in July. Even with unemployment benefits, roughly 30% of renters didn’t pay full rent in May.

Evictions for not paying rent and late fees are prohibited until July 25 for any landlord who has a federally backed mortgage or who receives government housing subsidies, according to the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. But after July 25, property owners may file 30-day notices to evict tenants.

Eviction filings are a matter of public record, can impact credit reports and make it more difficult to rent for years to come.

“Eviction has been shown to not only increase homelessness and long-term housing instability due to post-eviction consequences, it has also been shown to increase mental health issues, stress, emergency room usage, and materials hardship. A lack of stable housing impacts children and their education, reduces financial means to buy healthy food and medical care, and exposes families to dangerous materials in substandard housing,” according to the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies’ State of Poverty in Ohio report for 2020.

Electric and gas utilities also are making plans to resume disconnections and fees for non-payment. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio suspended utility shut offs in March after the governor declared a state of emergency, but now PUCO is telling utilities to submit their plans for resuming disconnections. Vectren’s plan is to restart shut offs Aug. 15, beginning with customers with the largest outstanding balances. Dayton Power & Light has yet to submit its plan to PUCO.

Heading into the coronavirus public health and economic crisis, evictions were already a major problem.

In December 2019, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, sponsored the Eviction Crisis Act, bipartisan legislation that aims to improve data collection and analysis, reduce preventable evictions and reduce the downstream consequences of evictions that can hurt families. The Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee has not taken action on it.

Portman’s office said:

  • Adjusting for inflation, the median rent has increased 61% since 1960 while median renter income grew 5%.
  • In 2016, one in 50 renters were evicted.
  • In 2016, 2.3 million eviction filings were made in courthouses nationwide — one every four minutes.

Three Miami Valley counties fall in the top 10 highest eviction rates in the state: Butler is first at 5.5%; Clark is at 5.1%; and Montgomery is ninth at 3.8%, according to the OACAA poverty report.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, is sponsoring the Emergency Rental Assistance and Rental Market Stabilization Act, which would earmark $100 billion to help at-risk, low-income households with rent and utilities.

The city of Dayton adopted two recommendations from an eviction task force established by Mayor Nan Whaley: require landlords issue receipts for rent paid in cash and cap late fees at $25. Whaley said she’s also exploring adopting a “stay-if-you-pay” ordinance or state law to block landlords from evicting tenants who paid all their back rent and fees.

Whaley said there aren’t enough good-paying jobs in Dayton, which contributes to the eviction crisis. “It was always the fact that people’s wages were too low,” she said. “During COVID, they’re nonexistent.”

She added that government leaders need to work to stave off the anticipated wave of evictions. “Once you get the eviction (on your record,) you’re really in trouble.”

Eviction Timeline:

Three Day Notice – served on the tenant with a request to leave the premises.

Eviction Filing – landlord files a case in the local court and the tenant is summoned to a hearing; the landlord may also sue for back rent, utilities or other damages

Red Tag – if the court determines the tenant should be evicted, a ‘red tag’ is posted on the door and say how long the tenant has to move out. In general, it’s five days.

Sheriff – after the designated move out time expires, the landlord may ask the sheriff to come to the home and remove the belongings.