Housing advocates say Oklahoma lawmakers should make it harder to evict 

Idea faces pushback from landlord advocacy groups 

By: - September 28, 2023 5:29 am

Advocacy groups are urging lawmakers to change the state's landlord-tenant law to help people stay housed. (Photo by Getty Images) (This image cannot be republished unless you have a subscription to Getty.)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Affordable housing advocates are calling on lawmakers to make it harder to evict tenants as a way to keep more people housed.

Groups that advocate for landlords though opposed the idea, saying that such changes would make it harder for responsible property owners to stay in business.

Amy Coldren, with Shelterwell, said state law makes it too easy for predatory landlords to evict amid Oklahoma’s continued shortage of affordable housing options. Her nonprofit works to strengthen landlord-tenant relationships with a goal of keeping people housed.

“Oklahoma is at the very bottom when it comes to filing fees,” Coldren said. “This makes Oklahoma highly desirable to out-of-state landlords who raise the rent and who prioritize evictions over repairs.”

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Rapid evictions and a lack of affordable rentals means tenants are often faced with homelessness, she said during a Tuesday legislative interim study.

Homelessness is costly to taxpayers. Services to help them regain housing costs an average $96 per day, advocates said.

Coldren said changes to the Oklahoma Residential Landlord and Tenant Act would make it easier for tenants to pay back rent or find a new home, but shouldn’t make it “impossible”for the landlord.

Changes could include lengthening the time a tenant has before an eviction is complete, increasing the filing fee by $100, incentivizing mediation and expunging eviction records after a period of time.

Katie Dilks, of the Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation, an advocacy group focused on civil law policies, said strengthening anti-retaliation laws would prevent landlords from avoiding repairs by threatening eviction.

But the calls are facing pushback from landlord groups.

Kathy Portley, president of the Tulsa Real Estate Investors Association, said good landlords struggle to make a profit for numerous reasons, including the rising cost of construction materials for repairs, higher interest rates, and city building codes and fees.

She also said just because the court filing fee is low, it doesn’t mean evictions are easy or inexpensive.

“If you do it with an attorney, it’s a whole lot more and it doesn’t guarantee it will get done,” Portley said. “So, you may have to start completely over, pay again and wait 60 days.”

Will Gattenby, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Association of Realtors said in a statement that it will work with lawmakers and organizations “to strengthen the relationship between landlords and their tenants.”

Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, who is examining affordable housing solutions, said the request needs further study because some proposed changes would be difficult to pass into legislation.

She said lawmakers want to balance private property rights, so increasing the eviction threshold is going to be a hard sell in the Legislature.

While raising the filing fee is more viable, Kirt said she was concerned it would be passed onto the tenant.

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Mindy Ragan Wood
Mindy Ragan Wood

Mindy covers the legislature for Oklahoma Voice. Her areas of focus include infrastructure, municipal government policies, and human services with an emphasis on the needs of intellectually vulnerable and physically challenged adults.