NORMAN, Okla. — Cleveland County District Court is grappling with landlords who are seeking evictions and back payment of rent, court records reveal.
Special District Judge Jequita Napoli granted judgment for five cases out of 19 which were filed on March 16 and heard by teleconference on April 1.
Fourteen were settled “by dismissal and a few were reset,” said former judge and now private practice attorney Tracy Schumacher. She reviewed Napoli’s entire docket for these cases.
“What that tells you about the 14 is those 14 litigants were making arrangements who either paid their rent or were making arrangements to pay,” Schumacher said.
Three of the five remaining cases were for outstanding rent before the COVID-19 crisis hit, and the other two were for people who were not allowed on the property according to lease.
“Of the five, all had telephonic hearings,” Schumacher. “All five cases where a judgment or decision was made, the litigants appeared on all sides.”
In one case, judgment was granted for $1,900 against tenants Robert and Brianna Bevill, records show.
“This was the fifth eviction filed for these people,” Schumacher said. “Not paying their rent is not a COVID-19 problem, it's a two-year problem in Cleveland County and it was for more than a month.”
Two additional judgments were related to improper use of a property.
In another case, a woman's trailer house had been repossessed, but she moved another trailer onto the property without being authorized to do so or repaying what she owed, Schumacher said.
A third case saw a tenant living in the home who was not on the lease and the lessee was nowhere to be found.
“Lisa Johnson (tenant) had no right to be in possession of that property,” Schumacher said. “James Cyrus is on the lease. He did not appear.”
TENANTS COULD STAY
After a judge issues judgment in favor of a landlord, the property owner or manager can return to the courthouse and request that the Cleveland County Sheriff's Office assist them in removing the tenant from the property. This procedure is a court order, issued by a judge and if often called a writ of assistance or writ of execution. However, after the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued an order on March 16 suspending court procedures for 30 days such as evictions, the courts are not forcing people out of their homes.
“With the (state) Supreme Court order that's in effect now, the plaintiff (landlord) cannot come back to the court to get the writ (eviction order),” Schumacher said. “They (tenants) won't have to do anything and will live there rent-free until at least May 15 when the courthouse reopens, or when it opens.”
Landlords are making payment arrangements with their tenants, as cases on the docket show, said Robert Goldman, attorney for Chalet Estates LLC said.
“We're all in this together with the virus,” Goldman said. “Everybody's been impacted by it. There's no question about it. We're trying now to reach some understanding with tenants. A lot of this has come out very recently where there's some attempts to reach out to tenants and find out why they have not paid their rent and reach agreements for payment arrangements instead of immediately going forward with a notice to quit.”
Goldman said “the judge” was very fair to continue cases in which tenants responded to the teleconference hearings and agreed to make payments arrangements “or whatever they could do.”
He said landlords are “feeling their way” through the crisis like everyone else. Goldman has asked his clients to reach out to tenants in a letter to communicate before issuing an automatic “pay or quit” notice and to explore payment arrangements.
“If they don't get any communication back, of course they have to move forward with the process,” he said.
Mindy Ragan Wood