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Oklahoma, infamous for its pro-life stances, just made life more difficult for renters across the state. House Bill 1564, also known as the eviction bill, removes protections for renters from being evicted during the Covid19 pandemic.
The bill was written by Republican State Senator Blake “Cowboy” Stephens and is sponsored by Republican State Representative Tom Gann.
While the CDC recommended a federal moratorium on evictions from September 2020 through March 31, 2021, state Supreme Courts have the right to pass laws that provide loopholes to the eviction moratorium. Following the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling, Senator Stephens wrote HB 1564 creates stringent requirements for postponing an eviction. It effectively renders the eviction moratorium moot for Oklahoma residents. Additionally, the bill allows landlords to demand interest for late rent payments.
In an interview, Representative Gann, co-sponsor of HB1564, confirmed he believes housing is an economic issue, rather than a social injustice. “This is an industry. If we want affordable housing for the homeless, we have to allow for someone to benefit from the fruits of their labor,” Gann said. After speaking with landlords, Gann said “These were people who some of them were not affected at all by the COVID, and they were doing everything that they could to skirt the rent and steal a man’s labor.”
The Supreme Court of Oklahoma also seems to believe that being unable to pay rent during a pandemic is a moral failing. The Court unironically noted that eviction is a public health and safety issue while ignoring the fact that residents who are evicted experience the same public health and safety issues facing people experiencing homelessness.
Nearly 20,000 unemployment claims have been filed in Oklahoma since March 2020. The state unemployment rate has spiked since the novel Coronavirus appeared in Oklahoma, soaring up to 15% in May, before dropping to its current rate of just under 6%. The unemployment rate does not include workers who receive cash payments.
Oklahoma renters have only a few resources and organizations to provide support in the fight for their homes. Oklahoma Legal Aid lists tenants’ rights on their website, as well as information about the eviction process. And Oklahoma Policy Institute keeps records about evictions in Oklahoma, providing information on local and federal policies that support renters facing eviction.
If you or your family is facing eviction, call 2-1-1, or visit OKlegalConnect.org