Cleveland Housing Court Sees Fewer-Than-Expected Eviction Filings

photo of eviction sign
Cleveland Housing Court saw 129 new evictions filed Mon. June 15 and by Thursday, new cases were down to 32. [zimmytws / Shutterstock]

There were far fewer new eviction filings in Cleveland Housing Court last week than the court expected, despite a months-long moratorium on evictions prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The court began accepting new cases for the first time since the start of the pandemic on June 15 and was set to enforce a daily limit of 125 filings. On the first day, the court received 129 filings. But the number decreased each day and by Thursday, only 32 new eviction cases were filed.

Housing Court Judge W. Moná Scott credits the city’s rental assistance program, which will disperse $11.3 million in federal money to Cleveland residents. The court has worked to get the word out about that assistance, she said.

“Not only is it talked about to the renters, but you also want to have that discussion with landlords,” said Scott, whose court has been holding virtual community meetings with landlords and tenants and distributing information about rental assistance. “I mean, everything was shut down and some landlords had a good rapport with their tenants.”

Scott said some landlords are content with waiting for money from the city when it becomes available. Cleveland starts accepting rental assistance applications next month.

“I really hope that that's what's going on,” said Abigail Staudt, a managing attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, who said she would have preferred the court resume evictions only after the rental assistance money was available.

“If it had been flipped, where that assistance was already available, maybe we wouldn't see filings initially once the court did open,” said Staudt.

Staudt said her office saw a 25 percent increase over the same time last year in calls from people with housing problems the week before the court reopened. It’s hard to tell what exactly is going on at the court because hearings are being held online, unless a party in the case requests an in-person hearing, she said. And those online hearings are not streamed, as some other courts do, for the general public to observe.

“Normally, if there was a big change in what was happening at the courthouse, we would have a couple people over there — or at least one person over there — just to see what was going on and how it was working,” Staudt said. “Given the way things are now, we just haven't been able to do that.”

The court is not livestreaming hearings and Scott said she is not convinced the court must make eviction hearings publicly accessible in the same way criminal cases are. And she worries about protecting the privacy of those facing eviction.

“Even the way the court was set up [for in-person hearings] was kind of personal. The podiums were really close to the bench,” Scott said. “And that was done intentionally so that people wouldn't have to speak loud about things they thought were embarrassing, personal. You're dealing with people in a sensitive area where they can't afford to pay their rent.”

Cases are not streaming online, but Scott said public access still will be granted on a case-by-case basis. Those who want access to a hearing must ask the court the day before the hearing, and a Zoom link will be provided, she said.

It will be some time before new filings end up in the courtroom. The Housing Court spent its first week since re-opening beginning to address a 500-case backlog that built up because of the pandemic shutdown.

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