Eviction cases are on the rise in Cleveland, but they're still below pre-pandemic levels

Someone taping an eviction notice to a door.
[Slava Dumchev / Shutterstock]

Evictions in Cleveland are creeping back up as protections and resources put in place during the pandemic have come to an end, but case numbers remain below pre-pandemic levels.

Cases have gone up since the end of a moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that held off evictions during the height of the pandemic, said Cleveland Housing Court Administrative Judge W. Moná Scott.

“It’s not a severe spike where it’s putting us behind,” Scott said. “But it is, you know, a lot of evictions are going through for some odd reason I can’t figure out.”

More of those cases are ending in an eviction, too, Scott said, but it’s difficult to know all of the reasons why. From what she’s seen, she said, many tenants aren’t showing up for trial. Many others are either denied rental assistance or didn’t seek out assistance, Scott said.

“I think it’s a little more complex than us knowing on the bench, and me trying to make sure my court is impartial and remain neutral but still get people connected,” Scott said. “It would take somebody to come in to research all of this and see what’s going on, what’s being missed, what could be done better.”

Court filings for eviction hit about 4,500 in 2020, Scott said, and about 1,800 of those were granted. Prior to the pandemic, the housing court received several thousand filings each year. An administrative order is still in place to limit the number of filings an individual landlord can do at once, Scott said.

Scott is pushing for a change in the rental assistance application process to allow landlords to start the paperwork, a measure already enacted in some other jurisdictions. But, she said, both tenants and landlords must have the will to seek help.

“The landlords have to have buy-in. They had to want to get the rental assistance,” Scott said. "You still have some landlords out there who, for whatever reason, don’t want to receive rental assistance.”

The court is partnering with local officials and organizations to host meetings informing tenants of their rights, Scott said. Those events were virtual throughout the pandemic, but the first in-person event took place Dec. 14.

There are additional options for tenants currently facing eviction. The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland is projected to help about 35 percent more people this year through its Right to Counsel program, according to a spokesperson. The program, launched in July 2020, provides legal assistance in certain eviction cases.

The program provides help not only during the trial itself, said managing attorney Hazel Remesch, but accessing resources in advance to help keep them in their homes.

“There’s a lot that we can do to help tenants navigate not just the eviction process, but also the rental assistance process, which can be pretty burdensome and take a couple of months,” Remesch said.

The program is currently focused on outreach to inform tenants of their rights to receive legal representation. Legal Aid has law students monitoring eviction cases to screen tenants and find those who are eligible for the Right to Counsel program, Remesch said.

“That is something we’ve been doing with the court to try to catch those tenants who don’t reach out to us ahead of time, but that might be entitled to representation,” Remesch said.

A majority of the eviction cases being brought to court are due to non-payment, Remesch said. Legal Aid has found those cases are still often related to lack of work or loss of income due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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