A study conducted by a group of students from The University of Tulsa College of Law’s Terry West Civil Legal Clinic shows Tulsans living in economic disparity face a legal system weighted against them, with only two out of 1,395 tenants prevailing in eviction proceedings in January. Tulsa has one of the top eviction rates in the country. The ease of eviction filings combined with barriers to justice for tenants has contributed to the growing problem. “Demand on the eviction docket makes it impossible to meet the competing pressures of fairness and efficiency,” said Assistant Clinical Professor of Law Roni Amit.
In 2019, landlords initiated 14,315 evictions against residential tenants in Tulsa County. As of March 12, eviction filings in 2020 had reached roughly 2,936, more than 1,000 per month before the court shut down on March 16. The COVID-19 crisis has brought little relief to the city or state’s housing issues. While eviction proceedings were put on hold, eviction filings were not, resulting in 2,680 eviction filings between March 16 and May 22, with 976 of those in Tulsa County. As the courts reopen, this situation stands to exacerbate existing problems in the eviction process, raising the prospect of increased evictions. The access to justice barriers identified in the report have been heightened as a result of the social distancing measures put in place by the court.
Eviction proceedings resumed on June 1 — at a time of increased individual and public health implications when identifying the justice barriers that contribute to evictions is essential. Students from the Terry West Civil Legal Clinic observed the Tulsa County eviction docket multiple times for a roughly two-month period from January through March 13, 2020, the last day that the court was open. Their report includes a data analysis of the eviction docket for the month of January, identifying trends and additional areas of concern. The report highlights that most cases are resolved through hallway negotiations in which tenants may be unaware of their rights and confused about the procedures in which they often are negotiating with a landlord’s attorney — a role they may not fully understand as representing the other side.