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

Posted at 8:34 AM, Mar 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-19 19:22:37-04

Una Biami, 55, waits anxiously outside Cleveland Housing Court. She's one of many residents who come to the court to sort out a variety of problems, from evictions to housing violations, and everything in between.

She says her experience with finding safe, affordable housing in Cleveland has been rough.

Biami is a retired U.S. Army sergeant now doing a battle with a landlord.

“He managed to paint over the situation every time and managed to get away with it,” she said.

She was gripping photos of a home drowning in black mold; the result of flooding, she says, that was never fixed.

Biami is fighting her eviction and wants damages.

She said she’s also concerned someone else may be living in this same home.

“The next person will be a victim of circumstance,” she said.

In 2017, 8,552 evictions were filed in Cleveland Housing Court. Those are just evictions. That number does not include small claims cases that are also filed in the civil side of housing court.

In 2016, 9,416 evictions were filed. In 2015, there were 10,267, and 10,930 evictions were filed in 2014.

The number evictions reached a high in 2008, during the height of the housing crisis, with 12,114 evictions filed.

Judge Ron O'Leary oversees Cleveland Housing Court; one of the largest dockets of a single-judge court in Ohio.

The court hears criminal and civil cases. On the criminal side, it’s violations of the city's housing code. On the civil side, it’s mostly evictions.

Judge O’Leary calls it a problem-solving court.

“That’s ultimately our goal; to try and help people,” he said. “To take their current situation and work on a way that's best for them."

Court specialists review cases and host housing clinics to answer questions. There is also a rent-deposit process for serious issues not being corrected by a landlord.

“It is a whole lot better to ask me and my staff questions before you have a case here."

You cannot get an eviction off your record. Often, the judge will recommend the landlord and tenant meet with a mediator. It can help avoid a judgment against the tenant.

“I try to give my tenants help,” said Nebal Ali, a Cleveland landlord.

She knows there's a lot at stake for both sides at eviction court.

“When the tenants don't pay and I still have a mortgage, and insurance and property taxes are due, it gets kind of frustrating because I have my own mortgage on my own house and five kids, three in college,” she explained.

She says there are good landlords who provide good housing.

That is what Biami is hoping to find. She is currently staying at a shelter and working with a VA case worker to find housing.

This veteran has become all too familiar with the sometimes high-cost of safe, affordable housing.

She said she appreciated sharing her story for this report so she could express her frustrations and perhaps spare another from a similar experience.

“You're my voice,” she said. “Someone can hear what I'm saying."

While it is true you cannot get an eviction off your record, you do have an option through the court.

Judge O'Leary said they offer a tenant class. “They can come in and we advise them of their rights and responsibilities as tenants, the landlord's rights and responsibilities and we can provide a certificate for someone,” he said.

The judge said a tenant can then show the certificate to future landlords to show they recognize what happened, addressed it, and have done their due diligence to improve.