The Struggle is Real

By Shandi Campbell (Director) and Chelsea Butler (Court Liaison) 

 

 

 

 

There are a host of stereotypes our society uses to describe people facing housing instability or eviction. There are assumptions made that people who do not pay their rent are jobless, unwilling to work, or financially irresponsible. What if it isn’t unemployment that leads to eviction, but rather underemployment? According to the recent National Low Income Housing Coalition report Out of Reach: The High Cost of Housing -, “In no state, metropolitan area, or county in the U.S. can a worker earning the federal or prevailing state or local minimum wage afford a modest two-bedroom rental home at fair market rent by working a standard 40-hour work week.”   

 

The reality for many renters in our state is there aren’t enough hours in the week available to work to afford rent and other basic life necessities like food, medicine, and childcare. In Oklahoma about 41% of people earn less than 50% of the area median income (AMI) and are categorized as “very low income” and 26% earn less than 30% AMI meaning they are “extremely low income”.  AMI is the “middle” income for a household in a specific region that varies by household size. In Oklahoma, the AMI is $53,840.  

The report shows that Tulsa County residents must make $17.79/hour to afford the rent for a two-bedroom unit at Fair Market Rate (FMR). The FMR is the rate that is calculated by HUD (Housing and Urban Development) to decide what the fair rental rate would be in that local area for standard quality housing. If you live in Tulsa County and make minimum wage, you will have to work 98 hours per WEEK to afford a two-bedroom apartment. This type of underemployment means a person making minimum wage will need two full-time jobs AND a part-time job in order to afford a two-bedroom housing unit.  

The Landlord Tenant Resource Center supports the overall agency mission of “making homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring” in our community by stopping homelessness before it starts. We provide resources, referrals, and education to landlords and tenants in Tulsa County. If you are facing housing instability or threat of eviction, there may be resources that can help, please visit our Social Services HUB inside Iron Gate at 501 W. Archer every Monday to Thursday from 1-4:30pm to learn more about available resources and assistance.  

Keeping Lines Open: The Importance of Communicating While Renting

By Rachel Johnson (LTRC Landlord Liaison) 

 

 

The beginning of any rental relationship starts well before the lease is signed and the tenant receives the keys. Once a landlord advertises an available unit, they spend time fielding inquiries to find the right tenant. Prospective tenants and the landlord communicate back and forth until the landlord finds the person or persons, they believe to be the best fit, and the landlord and tenant(s) sign the lease. The need for dynamic and open communication doesn’t end with the signed lease. Continued communication throughout the lease is key to healthy landlord-tenant relationships, while a failure to communicate can lead to misunderstandings, unresolved issues, and a breakdown in the relationship. 

Landlord and Tenant Communication Responsibilities 

As a landlord, it is your responsibility to ensure that tenants are able to contact you. Whether it’s through texts, phone calls, emails, an online tenant portal, mail, or some other method, you must say your contact preference in the lease. If you have a property manager who interacts with tenants instead, you must make their contact information available. It is also important for tenants to know when they can reach you or the property manager and, if they must leave a message, how long it takes for them to hear back. A study by Satisfacts, an authority on tenant satisfaction and management reputation, found that tenants who are satisfied with property management are more than 3X as likely to renew their lease as those who aren’t. Therefore, it is well worth your while (and bottom dollar) to build and keep positive relationships with your tenants. 

As a tenant, you are responsible for letting the landlord know about any issues with the property that happen during your tenancy, especially if you believe the landlord doesn’t already know about them. This gives the landlord an opportunity to ensure the property is being well maintained. Any maintenance requests must be in writing. Remember: the landlord can’t help if they don’t know something is wrong. 

Tips for Better Communication 

Effective communication is one of the best tools to help make the rental relationship a positive experience for both landlords and tenants. Here are a few tips that can help:
 

For Landlords/Property Managers:

  •  Be transparent
    • Be honest with your tenants
    • Acknowledge mistakes
  •  Be aware of how you are communicating
    • At least 70% of communication is nonverbal.
    • This includes your tone, facial expressions, hand gestures, and your posture. How you speak to and approach your tenants can leave them with a positive, or negative, view of you.
  • Offer more than one method of contact
    • While many tenants are comfortable communicating strictly through an online portal these days, keeping the choice open for a phone call, or better yet, an in-person meeting, can go a long way. And vice versa.
  • Respond promptly
    • Even if you don’t have an answer for your tenant yet, letting them know they have been heard can help to build your reputation as a caring landlord.
  • Adopt an “open door” policy
    • This does not mean allowing tenants to have access to you all the time. However, tenants should feel comfortable bringing any issues to you and know that they will get an answer, even if that answer is “I don’t know (yet).”
  • Send reminders for scheduled maintenance and walk-throughs
    • It is not uncommon that a tenant may forget about a planned visit, and a reminder is a common courtesy.
  • Ask your tenants for feedback
    • This allows you to know how you are performing as a landlord – areas where you’re knocking it out of the park and areas where you can improve.

For Tenants:

  • Be transparent
    • This rule applies to tenants, as well. Open and honest communication can go a long way towards building a good relationship with the landlord or property manager.
    • Let your landlord know of anything that will affect your rental situation when it happens instead of waiting for them to discover the issue later. They may be able to work with you or provide you with resources.
  • Be aware of how you are communicating
    • Another rule that goes both ways. How you speak to and approach your landlord or property manager about issues can leave them with a positive, or negative, view of you as a tenant and can affect whether you can continue renting from them when your lease is up.
  • Avoid distractions while on a call with your landlord or property manager
    • It shows you value their time and can help to avoid misunderstandings.
  • Make requests in writing
    • The Oklahoma Landlord-Tenant Act requires you to make requests to your landlord or property manager in writing. This also gives you a record of your interactions.
  • Inform your landlord or property manager about issues as soon as possible
    • This may allow the landlord to get ahead of larger (and potentially more expensive) problems and shows your investment in the property. Additionally, it is your duty under the law.
 

 

 

 

If you are interested in learning more ways to communicate effectively with your tenants or landlord, you can check out the Resources pages on our website or attend one of our advisory panels for tenants (TTAP) and landlords (TLAP). 

Putting it Plainly

BY: Chelsea Butler (LTRC Court Liaison)

 

Plain language is defined as a communication that is clear, straightforward and can be understood by anyone who hears that information for the first time. Unfortunately, that language is not what is used in court and causes a court experience to be confusing at times. When going to court, it is very common to hear words or phrases that many people (ones who did not go to law school) won’t understand.

The Landlord Tenant Resource Center has set up a quick guide that is easy to understand when preparing for court. Below are some common words and phrases that may be heard inside the courtroom:

  • Plaintiff: Landlord
  • Defendant: Tenant
  • Lease: a legal binding document between a landlord and tenant (landlord and tenant are often referred to as “parties”)
  • Summons: a form prepared by the plaintiff (landlord) and issued by a court that informs the defendant (tenant) that they are being sued and are required to appear in court (Note: it is important to understand that this is NOT an eviction)
  • Docket: the list of cases to be considered in court that day
  • Case Number: the 3–5-digit number that is assigned to your case listed on the eviction filing. For example, for case SC-2022-XXXX, the first two digits refer to the type of case it is. This one is a Small Claims case (SC). The second four digits refer to the year the case is filed, and the last four digits, XXXX, is your specific case number.
  • Process server: a person who serves legal documents, especially those requiring appearance in court
  • Mediation: the attempt to settle a legal dispute through active participation of a third party (mediator) who works to find points of agreement and make those in conflict agree on a fair result.
  • Pro Se: parties representing themselves in court without the assistance of an attorney
  • Pro Bono: short for “pro bono publico” means an attorney who offers their services for free

You can find our complete plain language legal terms list on our website here Court Language – Tulsaltrc

Are you interested in learning more about how plain language could increase equity for court cases like small claims and evictions? Read Put it Plainly: How the Use of Plain Language Can Increase Equity and Procedural Fairness in Small Claims Eviction Proceedings – Oklahoma Bar Association (okbar.org), co-Authored by Shandi Campbell, LTRC Director, and Katie Dilks, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation.

Legal jargon is confusing and frustrating, but the Landlord Tenant Resource Center is here to help! Feel free to visit our Social Services HUB inside Iron Gate at 501 W. Archer every Monday to Thursday from 1-4:30pm with any questions.

Eviction Delay – What it Means for Renters

On Wednesday, January 20th, 2021, the CDC eviction moratorium halting evictions was extended through at least March 31st, 2021. This blog post will explain what the eviction moratorium means for tenants. You can view the full official CDC media statement here.

Summary

The eviction moratorium prohibits a landlord from removing a covered tenant from a residential rental property for non-payment of rent before March 31, 2021. The moratorium prohibits any action by a landlord, owner, or other person to remove or cause the removal of a covered tenant from the residential property for non-payment of rent.

Any action that causes the removal of a covered tenant is defined as an eviction under the moratorium except if the residential property is foreclosed on. This includes legal attempts to evict a tenant, such as filing an eviction, and illegal attempts to evict a tenant, such as locking out a tenant or shutting off utilities.

The eviction moratorium provides only 5 circumstances when a landlord may evict a covered tenant. A landlord may remove a covered tenant who is:

  • Engaging in criminal activity on the premises
  • Threatening the health and safety of other residents
  • Damaging or posing an immediate and significant risk of damage to property
  • Violating a health and safety code or regulation
  • Violating a term of the lease, other than non-payment of rent or fees such as late fees

If your landlord is threatening to evict you or taking any of the actions listed above, you should contact a lawyer immediately for legal advice. You can seek brief legal advice and “know your rights” by calling the Landlord Tenant Resource Center at (918) 218-4138. If you have been served with a summons for notice of eviction that contains a court date you should reach out to Legal Aid and be sure to attend your court hearing.

If you have been served with a summons, do not miss your court date! You should attend the hearing and, if you are not able to speak with a lawyer before your hearing, there are lawyers at the justice center who can provide you with free advice and representation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I still have to pay rent?

Yes, you are still required to pay rent. If you are able to make partial payments, you should make your best effort to do so. The eviction moratorium doesn’t “cancel” rent. If you do not pay your rent, you will still owe that amount to your landlord. But a landlord cannot evict you for not paying rent before March 31, 2021. A landlord is also allowed to charge you late fees or other charges for non-payment of rent, but cannot evict you for not paying them.

What properties are covered by the eviction moratorium?

All residential rental properties are covered by the eviction moratorium, not just those properties that were covered by the CARES Act. The eviction moratorium applies to the tenant, not the rental property.

Am I covered by the eviction moratorium?

There are 5 requirements for you to be covered. You must meet all 5 of the requirements.

  1. You are unable to pay full rent. You are covered if you are unable to pay rent due to:
    • Substantial loss of household income,
    • Loss of compensable hours of work,
    • Loss of wages,
    • A lay-off, or
    • Extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses.
    • Your loss of income or other hardship does not have to be related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. You must meet income requirements. You are covered if you:
    • Expect to earn no more than $99,000 in annual income for 2020 or no more than $198,000 if you are filing a joint tax return, or
    • Were not required to report any income in 2019 to the IRS, or
    • Received an Economic Impact Payment (stimulus check) under the CARES Act
  3. You are making your best effort to pay rent. You should be making your best effort to make timely, partial payments as your circumstances allow.
  4. You must be making your best effort to obtain all available government assistance for rent and housing. You should try to obtain all available assistance that can be used to pay for your rent and Housing by calling 2-1-1 or visiting here.
  5. You have no other available housing of equal quality and safety. You are covered if an eviction would likely:
    • Make you homeless, or
    • Force you into a congregate living situation (such as a homeless shelter), or
    • Force you into a shared living situation (such as sleeping on a friend or family member’s couch.)
    • You are not forced to accept unsafe or unaffordable housing. Housing is only considered “available” if is unoccupied, safe, and will not increase your housing costs.

What do I need to do next?

If you are covered by the eviction moratorium you must:

  • Sign a declaration under oath stating that you are protected by the moratorium.
  • Give a copy of the signed declaration to your landlord or property manager.
  • Keep a copy of the signed declaration for your records.
  • If an eviction has been filed against you in court, provide a copy of the declaration to the judge at your court date.

The declaration is available on the Housing Solutions website under Tenant Resources. The declaration is signed under oath and under penalty of perjury. If you do not understand anything in the declaration, you should speak with a lawyer before signing it.

I am covered by the eviction moratorium, but my landlord is threatening to evict me anyway. What should I do?

You should speak with a lawyer immediately to get advice and representation. To receive free legal advice and representation, contact:

  • 211: Through 211, the Community Service Council helps connect those in need with housing resources. Call 211 or apply online here.
  • Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma: Provides legal assistance to low-income people in Oklahoma. Call 888-534-5243 or 918-428-4357 or visit Legal Aid for an online intake.
  • Tulsa County Bar Association: Provides free legal assistance during FED/eviction dockets in Tulsa County. For more information please call 918-584-5243.
  • Still She Rises: Provides legal assistance to North Tulsa mothers. Call 918-392-0867 or visit here.
  • Landlord Tenant Resource Center: Provides “know your rights” and basic legal information like what to expect in court. You can visit the Landlord Tenant Resource Center here or call 918-218-4138.

I am not covered by the eviction moratorium and cannot pay my rent. What should I do?

Emergency rental assistance is available for tenants unable to pay their rent due to financial hardship. If you are struggling to pay your rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you may qualify for emergency rental assistance from Oklahoma or Tulsa County. To find out about rental assistance programs, call 2-1-1 or complete a request form here.

Eviction Moratorium – What it Means for Landlords

On Wednesday, January 20th, 2021, the CDC eviction moratorium halting evictions was extended through at least March 31st, 2021. This blog post will explain what the eviction moratorium means for landlords. You can view the full official CDC media statement here.

What does the eviction moratorium do? 

The eviction moratorium prohibits a landlord from removing a covered tenant from a residential rental property for non-payment of rent before March 31, 2021.  The eviction moratorium prohibits any action by a landlord, owner, or other person to remove or cause the removal of a covered tenant from the residential property for non-payment of rent.  

Any action that causes the removal of a covered tenant is defined as an eviction under the CDC’s order, except if the residential property is foreclosed on. This includes legal attempts to evict a tenant, such as filing an eviction, and illegal attempts to evict a tenant, such as locking out a tenant or shutting off utilities. 

The eviction moratorium provides only 5 circumstances when a landlord may evict a covered tenant. A landlord may remove a covered tenant who is: 

  • Engaging in criminal activity on the premises 
  • Threatening the health and safety of other residents 
  • Damaging or posing an immediate and significant risk of damage to property 
  • Violating a health and safety code or regulation 
  • Violating a term of the lease, other than non-payment of rent or fees such as late fees 

Removing a tenant for any other reason will violate the eviction moratorium. To see more FAQ’s about the eviction moratorium as answered by the CDC please visit here

Do covered tenants still have to pay rent? 

Yes, the eviction moratorium does not relieve tenants of the obligation to pay rent. Tenants who are not able to pay full the amount of rent should be making partial payments if they are able to do so.  

The moratorium does not “cancel” rent. Tenants will still owe rent for the unpaid months, but cannot be evicted before March 31, 2021 for not paying. 

It also does not prohibit a landlord from charging late fees or other charges related to non-payment of rent. However, a landlord cannot evict a tenant for failing to pay the late fees or other charges related to the non-payment of rent.  

What properties does the eviction moratorium apply to? 

The eviction moratorium applies to all residential rental properties. Even those properties that were not covered by the CARES Act eviction moratorium. The moratorium covers a qualifying tenant, not the rental property.  

When is a tenant covered by the CDC eviction moratorium? 

A tenant must meet 5 requirements to be covered by the eviction moratorium: 

  1. The tenant cannot pay full rent.

The tenant is covered if they cannot pay full rent due to financial hardship, including: 

      • Substantial loss of household income,  
      • Loss of compensable hours of work, 
      • Loss of wages,  
      • A lay-off, or 
      • Extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses. 
      • The hardship does not have to be related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  1. The tenant meets income requirements.

The tenant is covered if they:  

      • Expect to earn no more than $99,000 in annual income for 2020 or no more than $198,000 if you are filing a joint tax return, or 
      • Were not required to report any income in 2019 to the IRS, or 
      • Received an Economic Impact Payment (stimulus check) under the CARES Act 
  1. The tenant is making their best effort to pay rent.

The tenant should be making their best effort to make partial payments as their circumstances allow. If a tenant’s circumstances do not allow them to make partial payments, they can still meet this requirement and be covered by the eviction moratorium.  

  1. The tenant must make their best effort to obtain all available government assistance for rent and housing.

The tenant should try to obtain all available assistance, including: 

      • Calling 2-1-1 or visiting here.  
  1. The tenant has no other available housing.

The tenant is covered if an eviction would likely:  

      • Make them homeless, or 
      • Force them into a congregate living situation (such as a homeless shelter), or  
      • Force them into a shared living situation (such as sleeping on a friend or family member’s couch.)  

Housing is only considered “available” if it is unoccupied, safe, and will not increase the tenant’s housing costs. A tenant cannot be forced into housing that is unsafe, unaffordable, or would force them into a shared living situation.

What must a tenant do if they are covered? 

If a tenant is covered, they must sign a declaration under oath stating that they are covered and give you a copy of the signed declaration.  

The declaration is available on the Housing Solutions website under Landlord Resources. 

As a landlord, you must tell a tenant in writing the name and address of the manager, owner, property manager, or other person who must accept written notices such as this declaration from a tenant. If that person has changed, you should give an updated written notice to your tenants so your tenants can provide the declaration to the correct person.  

What happens if a landlord violates the eviction moratorium? 

A landlord who violates the eviction moratorium is subject to criminal penalties, including fines and jail time. Violations will be prosecuted by the United States Department of Justice.  An individual landlord violating the order may receive: 

    • A fine of up to $100,000, one year in jail or both 
    • If the violation results in a death, the fine can be increased to up to $250,000 

An organization violating the order may receive: 

    • A fine of up to $200,000 per violation 
    • If the violation results in a death, the fine can be up to $500,000 per violation 
I’m struggling to pay my bills because my tenant isn’t paying rent. What can I do if I cannot evict them? 
  1. Request Mediation:  
    • You can request free mediation services from the Early Settlement Mediation Program to resolve disputes with your tenant, including non-payment of rent.  
    • Call 918-596-7786 or complete an intake form available here 
  2. Apply for Rental Assistance:  
    • Landlords can find out about additional rental assistance programs by calling 2-1-1 or visiting here. 
  3. Talk to Your Mortgage Servicer:  
    • Your property may qualify for protections under the foreclosure moratorium 
    • If you are struggling to pay your mortgage due to loss of rental income, you should speak with your loan servicer. 
    • You may be entitled to a forbearance, which allows you to temporarily suspend or reduce your monthly mortgage payments.
  4. Talk to a Lawyer
    • If you have questions about what your rights and obligations are as a landlord, you should speak with a lawyer. 
    • If you are not currently represented, brief legal advice and “know your rights information” is available through the Landlord Tenant Resource Center at 918-218-4138. 
    • The Tulsa County Bar Association (TCBA) Lawyer Referral Program can refer you to a lawyer who will advise you on what your rights are, what legal options are available to you and, if necessary, arrange for further legal work. To contact the TCBA Lawyer Referral Program, call 918-587-6014 or visit here.

Eviction Delay Through

Eviction Moratorium – What it Means for Landlords January 27, 2021 | Shandi Campbell, LTRC Director On Wednesday, January 20th, 2021, the CDC eviction moratorium halting evictions was extended through at least March 31st, 2021. This blog post will explain what the eviction moratorium means for landlords. You…