HELP for Oklahomans Facing Eviction During COVID-19

OBF Grantee, the Housing Eviction Legal Assistance Program (HELP) at Oklahoma City University School of Law provides legal assistance to tenants facing eviction. Dick Klinge, Director of HELP, says calls have doubled during the COVID-19 emergency as many Oklahomans face eviction due to unemployment.

The program was recently highlighted on CBS This Morning for the work they are doing to help local renters stay in their homes during the pandemic. Klinge is featured in the video. Watch the story here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-us-unemployment-eviction/

Dick Klinge, Director of Pro-Bono HELP

Where Do Vulnerable People Turn When a Pandemic Collides With Oklahoma’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Act?

By Dick Klinge

In 2018, a grant from the Oklahoma Bar Foundation allowed OCU School of Law to launch its Housing Eviction Legal Assistance Program (HELP). HELP’s mission is to provide effective access to justice for people who otherwise have limited access to legal assistance when facing eviction from their homes or other landlord/tenant disputes.

Since its launch in 2018, HELP has provided pro bono legal representation for more than 650 families facing eviction or other residential landlord disputes in Oklahoma County.  Its client base cuts across all race, ethnicity, and age categories.  Although HELP does not have income or legal status qualifiers for its services, approximately 98% are at the bottom of the economic scale. Almost all clients are rent burdened paying well in excess of 30% of their income towards housing.  They do not have the funds to retain private firms to represent their legal interests in housing related issues.

With the ongoing support of the OBF, HELP has provided zealous legal representation for its clients both in eviction proceedings and subsidized housing administrative proceedings. HELP advises clients on how to understand and exercise their tenant rights whether they arise under statutory, contractual, agency, tort, constitutional or other applicable legal principles.

In 2018, neither the OBF nor OCU knew HELP would be confronting novel, complex and unique legal issues for its tenant clients arising out of the COVID-19 related Emergency Orders issued by Governor Stitt, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt and orders of the Oklahoma Supreme Court.  These issues were further complicated as the Federal Government issued new COVID-19 related regulations for subsidized housing and then enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).  Additionally, HELP had to gain an immediate understanding of Oklahoma’s Health Emergency Powers Act (OHEPA) and how its general and preemption provisions in particular can be potentially used to protect and expand tenant rights.

The ongoing OBF funding has allowed HELP to gain a thorough understanding of tenant rights under both Oklahoma and Federal law.  This foundational knowledge has enabled HELP to quickly identify and analyze how COVID-19 related orders and statutes will impact and expand tenant rights.

Although the Supreme Court Orders have effectively delayed most eviction proceedings, an eviction tsunami is building on the horizon as thousands of Oklahomans are losing their jobs and their ability to meet their rent and other financial obligations.  In the calm before the storm, HELP is analyzing case specific legal issues which have arisen out of conflicting provisions of those Emergency Orders.  It is also analyzing how the preemption provisions of OHEPA can be used to potentially override provisions of applicable Oklahoma statutes which otherwise limit tenant rights.  The CARES Act is being carefully analyzed so that HELP is prepared to both zealously advocate for the tenant protections and aggressively enforce the landlord obligations thereunder.

Additionally HELP is working with other community organizations in Oklahoma County and statewide to inform them about the new COVID-19 related statutes, regulations and legal issues arising so they can help their tenant clients.  Since its launch, HELP has focused on the education of community and governmental organizations. It is these groups tenants seek assistance on eviction or other landlord/tenant disputes.

Thus, the answer to the question, “Where Do Vulnerable People Turn When a Pandemic Collides with Oklahoma’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Act,” is simple.  They turn to HELP and other legal non-profit organizations funded by the OBF. OBF Grantees are focused on serving vulnerable and under served members of society to ensure that they have effective access to our system of justice.  Without that funding, too many families are left without legal representation and they cannot successfully navigate the complex legal system. Families face threats of eviction, a need for shelter and even homelessness in these challenging COVID-19 times.

12 Comments on “HELP for Oklahomans Facing Eviction During COVID-19”

  1. My. sister, Joyce Sanders, 2663 East 2020 Rd. Lot #5, Hugo, OK., 74743 has a court date of June 4th, 2020 to be evicted from trailer house that she lives. She is in a wheel chair because she has many fractures that never healed properly after a very bad car accident. She has a very low oxygen and must have oxygen to live. She had her SSI pulled at the end of October 1919. She has only recieved $127. Per month from Oct 2, 1919 until May 4, 2020. She has been in eviction court in February and March. She has been postponed till June 4th due to Corona Virus in April and May. She needs assistance to keep from being evicted as she did not receive any back pay for any of those months. As she had been promised by her. Free legal aid attorney and cannot pay the back rent. If she is evicted she will not have a chance of survival without any oxygen and the Covid virus would be much worse for her than a person with healthy lungs. I am afraid for her life please assist her and help her because the time is running out.

    1. Rebecca,
      The Oklahoma Bar Foundation is a grant maker meaning we fund law-related non-profit organizations. We do not give legal advice or help directly with legal services. You can try contacting Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma or Trinity Legal. There is also a 24 hour hotline you can call for assistance. Just dial 211.

  2. We just recieved a court notice of eviction today, Monday, may 25th, 2020. I start a job June 1st, and my husband is looking for work and trying to get unemployment. We have 4 kids in the house with us. Please help.

    1. Elizabeth,
      The Oklahoma Bar Foundation is a grant maker meaning we fund law-related non-profit organizations. We do not give legal advice or help directly with legal services. You can try contacting Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma or Trinity Legal. There is also a 24 hour hotline you can call for assistance. Just dial 211.

  3. Needs help with rent behind a couple months and landlord about to file and I really don’t have any where else to go.

    1. Eula,
      The Oklahoma Bar Foundation is a grant maker meaning we fund law-related non-profit organizations. We do not give legal advice or help directly with legal services. You can try contacting Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma or Trinity Legal. There is also a 24 hour hotline you can call for assistance. Just dial 211.

  4. Hi, I am trying to help my niece that is being evicted in Seminole,OK. They are having to spilt the payment beginning of the month and middle. The owner wants them out by the 20th and fully out by the end of the month. They have no where to go and she has young children. Can you help stop this in any way? Not enough time to find a place and her dad is being transferred to the heart hospital in OKC. Please help. I would need to talk to someone to explain the whole picture.

    1. Janice,
      The Oklahoma Bar Foundation is a grant maker meaning we fund law-related non-profit organizations. We do not give legal advice or help directly with legal services. You can try contacting Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma or Trinity Legal. There is also a 24 hour hotline you can call for assistance. Just dial 211.

    1. Marquita,
      The Oklahoma Bar Foundation is a grant maker meaning we fund law-related non-profit organizations. We do not give legal advice or help directly with legal services. You can try contacting Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma or Trinity Legal. There is also a 24 hour hotline you can call for assistance. Just dial 211.

  5. I am in dire need of help. My mother died one year ago today. I’m living in the house and have been for 15 years in August, my parents bought new in 1963. Only the home my mother bought in 2006 and their original home are to be sold even though EVERYONE in the family knew she wanted this house to be mine. It was to have been put in my name but her health declined, she ended up with dementia, and as stated died a year ago today, June 27th. I am needing help immediately with navigating my options to buy my 2 sisters out, even though my younger sister made it clear years ago she was NO longer a part of our family. She and our mother hadn’t spoken with or seen each other in over 15 years. She was never any help, never knew or came to the multiple hospital stays and wasn’t there the day she died or at her funeral. My older sister, according to our mother’s Will, which I do not believe is her amended Will. I drove her myself to her attorney’s office to change it. My sister(older) our mother supposedly appointed Executor. My sister then hired our mother’s attorney whom I’ve known since junior high, and whom my older sister has worked with for 30 or more years so the 2 of them have a “special” relationship. He is not a probate attorney, and when this first was filed in court I called him and was told I didn’t need to go to court. He slipped in a clause that as Executor, my sister did not have to provide me or anyone else with any information about what she sold of our mother’s, nothing. And the Will states with everything besides the 2 homes we 3 are to share and share alike. I was never informed she had scheduled the estate sale. I only found out because my son-in-law and my youngest son work together and he told my son my daughter was at our mother’s house working the estate sale and anything sold the money was to be split 3 ways, not given to my daughter and niece! I never even had a chance to go over with my sister and get the items I wanted! Strangers that day We’re buying my mother’s things! I have been screwed by both sisters and wasn’t even given time to grieve! My sister started throwing things away or selling or keeping it or giving it to our grown children before I had a chance to even go through it. My older sister was rarely ever there for our mother. I am the one who drove her to every doctor appt and my youngest son did her grocery shopping and almost every night took her something to eat. Then last year in October, I found out after looking at this house online at the County Assessor’s office website, she somehow had gotten the house I’ve lived in all these years put not only in my name, but hers and the younger sister’s names without me even knowing or being notified by anyone she’d done this. Now I’m expected to buy it, even though I’m already on it with them as the owner. I am legally disabled and have been since 2000. I’m dealing with many serious health issues. I am looking to get some type of I believe HUD loan, I learned about while researching this online. A special loan for the disabled. No closing costs, no money down. I just received a threat letter from the attorney that he tends to see me evicted if I don’t get a loan and buy my sister’s out by the end of July. I’m supposed to be having surgery soon, and having 45 years worth of my things, there’s no way I could pack and no way I could afford to move. I do intend to stay here but need help with the loan process, etc. This last year I’ve spoken with 5 attorneys who offered a little advice, even telling me what she and the attorney have done throughout this ordeal, is wrong and I do have MANY grounds of which I could fight them in court but of course none of those attorneys would actually represent me in court without money, which I cannot begin to afford. I only make barely over 1300.00 a month. And it takes most of that just to pay utilities, eat, keep things up as much as possible. Now my car is down. First new car I’ve ever owned. Motor is shot and I’ve never had anything problems ever with it except the usual upkeep. Even though she to one of my diseases I cannot drive but rarely, I still need a car. I can’t even afford to fix it! I’m lost and need help NOW. Is there anything you can do to help me? PLEASE. I appreciate any advice.

    1. Teresa,
      The Oklahoma Bar Foundation is a grant maker meaning we fund law-related non-profit organizations. We do not give legal advice or help directly with legal services. You can try contacting Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma or Trinity Legal. There is also a 24 hour hotline you can call for assistance. Just dial 211.

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