Two Oklahoma legislators, one Republican and one Democrat, have both requested interim studies be held on the state’s Residential Landlord Tenant Act, which governs a range of issues, including how evictions in the state are carried out.
On June 22, Rep. Carol Bush, R-Tulsa, submitted a request for a study on the Landlord Tenant Act to “address needed updates” to the law. Two days later, Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, submitted his own request for an interim study on the law to “study possible reforms.”
Bennett, who has run legislation in the past seeking to reform the eviction process, said he requested an interim study on the issue after reading a recent Frontier investigation on one of the most prolific eviction filers in the state. Bennett said he was surprised to learn about the practice of serial evictions, and it spurred him to request the study.
“As the article sort of outlined — and so much other evidence — points to, the current situation does favor landlords,” Bennett said. “It doesn’t mean that every landlord takes full advantage, it’s not so much that it’s like a zero-sum game benefiting the landlord, it’s just that there are protections that we could put in place for tenants that just might make the situation more equitable.”
Bennett said he is not anti-landlord and hopes to bring them to the table as well to discuss needed changes to the law.
“I think we can reform the landlord tenant act in a way that’s beneficial to everybody,” Bennett said.
The Frontier has documented some of the issues facing renters in Oklahoma before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as so-called “serial evictions” by out-of-state landlords and the ability of landlords to continue with eviction filings despite a federal moratorium on evictions.
House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, is responsible for green-lighting interim studies. The list of approved studies is anticipated to be finalized by the end of July.
Last year, the Legislature held an interim study on the Landlord Tenant Act, but little in the way of legislation was passed as a result.
The law has only had minor modifications to it since it was passed in 1978, and that it likely needs updating, both from a tenant’s perspective as well as a landlord’s, Bush said.
“Let’s look at what modifications need to be made to be fair to landlords so they can continue to make money, but also to protect tenants,” Bush said.
Bush saw first-hand some of the issues that tenants face in Oklahoma when she worked as executive director for Tulsa’s Crime Commission. Some apartment complexes had extensive maintenance issues including mold in the ceilings, broken windows and no air conditioning. Many landlords were out-of-state investors, she said.
“No matter if you’re in Section 8 or making $100,000 a year and live in an apartment, you shouldn’t live with mold or lack of proper heat and air. It’s about safety,” she said.
Bush said she understands landlords have to make money, and wants to find a balance and invite them to speak as well in order to find some balance. However, Bush said, there is probably no one fix that will improve everything at once. Rather, it’s likely that it will be a multi-year effort.