CLEVELAND — Earnest Harris has been renting out his two Cleveland double homes since 1995 and said local landlords need to play a greater role in helping distressed tenants find the federal rental assistance they need to keep them from facing eviction
Harris told News 5 he's never had to evict a tenant in his 26-years as a landlord because he keeps close communication with them.
“It’s a social agreement between two people on how we’re going to live, and how we’re going to communicate," Harris said.
“Just call and tell me that you don’t have the money, and if there’s a problem that you have, we can approach that problem together.”
But unfortunately, Cleveland Housing Court and leaders in Summit County report too many tenants aren't taking action and applying for the millions in federal rental assistance available to them.
Cleveland Housing Court Judge W. Mona' Scott reported she's still seeing up to 200 eviction cases every week, even though a federal eviction moratorium is still in place through June 30.
“They haven’t sought rental assistance, they haven’t made any payment, they’re not in communication with their landlords," Scott said.
“Tenants are still not showing up for their hearings, tenants are not accessing the right-to-counsel, they’re not accessing rental assistance.”
"Landlords can seek back rent when the moratorium is lifted, they can file for a second cause hearing and seek damages."
“It gives them a right to get a judgment, and they will attach their wages, so they will end up paying back this rent in the long run, when you’re working and getting money deducted out of your pay.”
Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro told News 5 her team has already taken in more than 5,000 applications for rental, utility, and mortgage assistance, but said too many distressed tenants are uniformed or are too embarrassed to apply.
“They don’t always know where to look for resources, and so we continue to reach out because we know that we’re reaching some, but we’re not reaching all," Shapiro said.
“Call 2-1-1, and they’re kind of the air traffic controller that will direct you and put you in touch with the best resources that we have.”
“If you're afraid that's what’s going to happen, you don’t know how you’re going to make your next month’s rent payment, or your utility payment, when you start to feel that way start to look for help.”
"Putting people out on the street, or making them homeless, or living in cars is the last, worst option.”
Shapiro said tenants can find help through its Summit County Cares Program.
CHN Housing Partners reported it has some $20 million in rental assistance dollars and said some tenants could qualify for up to 12 months of help.
Meanwhile, Harris is urging other N.E. landlords to help tenants through the application process.
“I’m not interested in taking somebody to eviction court and putting them out, I’m interested in developing long-lasting relationships,” Harris said.
“What I would tell our landlords is become aware of these programs, because not only do they help the tenants, they help you.”