Evicted and nowhere to go: Single mom struggling to make ends meet faces an uncertain reality

Posted at 9:44 AM, Mar 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-21 18:03:17-04

Editor's note: This is the latest report from our Cleveland Abandoned series.

Right now, people across our area face a sad reality: Eviction. Some renters have no regard for the property, but others face unseen struggles and are desperate to hang on to their unit.

In Ohio, a landlord must file a complaint against a tenant, go to court, and be granted a judgment in their favor for an eviction to be legal.

Many times, it's settled before they even get to court. However, sometimes it ends less ceremoniously.

A knock at the door begins the set out.

“Hello, bailiff," said Yusef Russell, Cleveland Housing Court Deputy Supervising Bailiff.

“How you doin' ma'am," he asked the woman who answered.

This is a legal eviction that was ordered by Cleveland Housing Court.

“Do you know what's happening today," he asked. 

“Everything clear upstairs,” Russell asked his partner.

The bailiffs ensure everyone's safety during a set out. The landlord hires a moving crew that moves in to bag up a tenant’s belongings.

Russell said the bailiffs for Cleveland Housing Court oversee five to 10 set outs a day.

There are no moving trucks; a tenant's belongings are left on the tree lawn. They have until 5 p.m. to remove it, or the landlord can dispose of it. Otherwise, they could be cited.

The woman being evicted said this was her first eviction. She said it was sad and embarrassing, and she was grateful her 16-year-old son was at school.

She said her mind was racing, but mostly focusing on where she and her son would go.

She said she fell behind on rent. The single mom said she's working and trying to make it on her own, but it's not easy.

“I don't get food stamps,” she said. "I don't get Medicaid. Nothing, and it's hard."

Last year, about 8,500 evictions were filed in Cleveland. Fewer than 1,600 ended in a set out. Most of the time people move out on their own before it gets to that point.

RELATED: Fighting for safe and affordable housing, retired army sergeant is one of many battling landlords

RELATED: How legal representation for tenants in housing court can affect eviction outcomes in Cleveland

The main reason an eviction is filed is because a tenant fails to pay rent. Many landlords told us they try to work with a tenant as much as possible, but there reaches a point where they have bills to pay as well and must receive payment to meet their own needs.

Russell said his job can be especially difficult when children are involved.

"You try to compartmentalize,” he said. “At the end of the day I'm human, but I'm here to enforce a court order and I do it with as much compassion as I can.”

There is such a thing as an illegal eviction. Legal Aid representatives say they get those phone calls and try their best to help people through the process.

In Ohio, a landlord cannot physically remove a tenant, terminate utilities or change the locks. It does happen in Cleveland, but there's no way to track the frequency.

According to the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, in addition to the right to a fair eviction process, tenants also have legal recourse if a landlord isn’t making necessary repairs or does not return their security deposit in a timely fashion.

Renters can call the 216-861-5955 during business hours for information about their rights and responsibilities.

You can also call the Legal Aid Intake Line at: 888-817-3777 or 216-687-1900 with questions.