CLEVELAND — News 5 and the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland teamed up with the United Way to host a housing help phone bank and Facebook Live to help Northeast Ohio rebound from COVID-19.
News 5's phone bank was made possible with the help of United Way 211 Helplink System, with navigators working remotely to take dozens of calls from concerned tenants.
Jennifer Sheehe, Supervising Housing Group Attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland told News 5 the inability to pay rent and tenants requesting rent assistance are the two biggest issues facing tenants during the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.
Sheehe said too many landlords were illegally throwing out tenants when the City of Cleveland temporarily suspended evictions due to coronavrus concerns.
“We call them self help evictions, meaning landlords are with shutting off water, changing locks, they are taking measure into their own hands,” Sheehee said.
“It’s completely illegal because only the court has the ability that they have to move, and in order to do that there is a process.” (8
Sheehe was pleased to announce the start of "right to counsel" legislation on July 1, an effort legal aid successfully promoted, allowing qualify tenants to obtain free legal representation during an eviction in court.
“There are some qualifications, you have to have a child in the home and be below a certain percentage of the poverty line. But we really think we’re going to reach out to a lot of tenants because it gives them a right.”
Sheehe said tenants must remain active if they're in a dispute with a landlord, they must make sure they appear for all court eviction proceedings, and they should not withhold rent on their own.
Sheehe said tenants can only suspend rent payments if they participate in a court approved rent escrow program.
“You have to give a notice to a landlord in writing, give them a reasonable time to make that repair," Sheehe said.
"And then if you’re current with your rent, then you can go ahead and make that deposit with the court.”
News 5's Joe Pagonakis is hosting a live Q&A with experts from The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland to answer your...
If you would like to apply to get help from a Legal Aid attorney, you can visit www.lasclev.org to apply online anytime.
The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland has increased its services due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many people are facing legal issues with shelter and economic stability.
Each year, approximately 20,000 residential eviction actions are filed in Cuyahoga County, of which approximately 9,000 are in the City of Cleveland. More than 60 percent of eviction cases filed in Cleveland include households with children. Many families living in Cleveland are housing insecure. Cleveland families move at least five times more than the national average. Families with children who face eviction have increased levels of disruption in school and higher rates of absenteeism.
Tenants often lack knowledge and awareness of their legal rights. The fear of being evicted and being forced to seek housing, in a limited housing market, discourages many Cleveland tenants from fighting eviction actions. Additionally, many tenants live in uninhabitable living conditions due to aging housing stock. Often, tenants fail to report substandard housing conditions because they fear eviction.
Evictions have an economic impact, often leading to loss of employment, health problems like more frequent hospitalizations, lower educational achievement and higher dropout rates for children, increased use of all social service systems and unstable communities.