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Dayton Court Wants To Help Renters With New Policy

DaytonMunicipalCourt_crop.jpg
Dayton Municipal Court

If you went on the Dayton Municipal Court website a few weeks ago, you could look up someone’s eviction history all the way back to the 1990s. Now, the court has limited online searches to eviction records from the past three years.

The court’s new policy follows a similar change made in Franklin County in January. Dayton Municipal Clerk of Court Mark Owens said this could help renters because landlords look at eviction history when deciding on tenants.

“A person could be a day late or they could be months late and it still goes down as an eviction,” he said. “[An eviction record] doesn't tell the whole story.”

Owens said eviction cases that have been dismissed and cases where a tenant may not have been at fault can still appear as evictions in court records. He said the pandemic has brought the issue of evictions to the forefront and the court decided to make the change to help renters in the future.

“We thought that this was a way to allow people who had problems in the past to be able to rent property in the future, particularly if for the last three years they haven't had a difficulty with evictions,” he said. “This just helps to clean up past evictions and give people a fresh start.”

Debra Lavey, a senior attorney with the western Ohio-based Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, said on top of the fact that records can be incomplete or misleading, evictions are not evenly distributed across the population. Evictions disproportionately affect people of color, in particular Black women, according to an ACLU report that analyzed national eviction data. The stigma that comes with evictions can have a long-term impact on poor Black women and other communities of color.

“Limiting online eviction records surely is a start to removing those barriers for renters who are trying to access housing,” she said.

While these records are no longer accessible through a quick internet search, they can still be requested through the Clerk of Court's office. A more comprehensive solution would be a process where tenants could expunge their eviction records, Lavey said. In 2018 the Cleveland Housing Court set new rules that made it easier for tenants to get their eviction records sealed. The Dayton Municipal Court is considering creating a program where residents could expunge specific eviction cases but has not yet come to a decision.

Eviction filings at the court have picked up somewhat since the beginning of the pandemic but are still lower than in previous years. In May, June and July there were roughly half as many eviction filings compared to the same period in 2019.

But Owens said if the eviction moratorium on certain federally-assisted housing is not extended, he anticipates there would be a “huge increase” in the number of eviction filings. Lavey said Advocates for Basic Legal Equality is seeing an uptick in COVID-related eviction cases, with clients unable to pay rent due to job loss or not receiving unemployment or stimulus checks.

The new policy limiting online eviction records will not benefit those residents currently facing eviction, Owens said.

“This won't help them now, but it could help five years from now or 10 years from now, because [an eviction due to the pandemic] won't show up on their record at that point.”

If you or someone you know is at risk of eviction, contact the United Way of the Greater Dayton Area by calling 211 or go to their website for more information.

If you have an eviction hearing scheduled, you can call Community Action Partnership’s legal clinic at 937-341-5000, ext. 904, and leave a message including the hearing date. Find out more or apply for rental assistance online here.

You can also contact Legal Aid at 937-228-8088 or request legal help online here.

More information about evictions in the Miami Valley during COVID-19 can be found here.