LIMA — For more than two months, the novel coronavirus has left a path of despair in its wake across Ohio and the nation. Nearly three dozen lives have been lost in Allen County alone to COVID-19. Schools, business and industry shuttered their doors and thousands of workers were laid off in March and April as the virus hit its peak. Even as workers slowly began to return to their jobs, unemployment sits at near record levels as the virus lingers.
In many households the rent is past due, and there’s not enough money to go around. Tenants and landlords in some instances are in the same financial boat, wondering how they will meet their financial obligations.
Despite the lack of a statewide policy governing evictions and only a temporary federal moratorium on many foreclosures and eviction proceedings, one Allen County judge says that more serious ramifications of the virus could come become painfully obvious as summer turns into fall.
As chief magistrate at Lima Municipal Court, Judge Richard Warren handles eviction hearings filed in Allen County. He said the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security bill, more commonly known as the CARES Act, put on hold until July 25 all eviction proceedings involving tenants in low-income and government-subsidized housing.
The moratorium, in reality, extends even further. Warren said once the July 25 date arrives, landlords will be required — under the CARES Act provisions — to provide tenants who are behind in their rent an additional 30 days’ notice of their intent to initiate eviction proceedings.
“That takes us into late August before court actions can be filed, which means the earliest that any hearings would take place would be the first part of September,” Warren said this week.
There is no similar state or federal moratorium preventing the eviction process for tenants of non-subsidized homes or housing units, but Warren said landlords have been “pretty good” about working with clients who have fallen behind in their rent.
The magistrate said that once the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, all eviction proceedings were halted until May 4. Hearings have since resumed in municipal court — with a few caveats.
In dealing with tenants in traditional rental agreements, federal law states that if a landlord is the recipient of any loan issued through a government-backed agency — such as the FHA — he or she is prohibited under the terms of the CARES Act from proceeding with eviction proceedings against a tenant.
“It’s really a Catch-22,” Warren said. Landlords need to get monthly payments from their tenants, and banks and lending institutions expect payments from landlords as well.
“Are the banks going to forgive their loans?” Warren asked rhetorically.
According to an April report from the Ohio Poverty Law Center, more than one third of all households in Ohio are made up of renters.
More than 3.5 million people in 1,572,000 households rent their homes, according to the report. In 2019, the fair market value rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Ohio was $818. A family needed to earn almost twice the minimum wage — or $15.73 per hour — to afford this rent.
Ohio is one of only six states who has not addressed evictions on a statewide basis, according to the study, and it is expected that with unemployment still near historically high levels the worst is yet to come once the timelines currently in place are reached.
Could the dam burst in terms of the number of eviction filings once September rolls around?
“Probably,” said Warren, “which in turn creates a real ripple effect. If people can’t pay their rent and lose their homes, where are they going to go? I’ve tried to be understanding and the landlords know and appreciate that. Most judges and courts understand the situation and I think most banks understand this as well. We’re all in this together,” the judge said.
“We’re anticipating thousands of eviction cases to begin moving through the courts,” said Susan Choe, executive director of Ohio Legal Help. “The reprieve is over, even though many renters still haven’t been able to recover financially from losing their jobs and incomes.”