CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A Hamilton County landlord is suing to try to force Hamilton County Municipal Court judges to proceed with residential evictions after delays due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Salvador Properties alleges the court and its judges are violating their rights to reclaim access to their rental property, a Mt. Washington apartment.
The lawsuit names Judge Heather Russell, the presiding and administrative judge of Hamilton County Municipal Court. It asks the Ohio Supreme Court to force the municipal court judges to proceed with forcible entry and detainer actions.
“Other than Youngstown with no hearings being scheduled at all, Hamilton County presently is the worst in the state for scheduling eviction hearings,” said the landlord’s attorney, Chris Finney. “No evictions hearings have been held since March 15, and the earliest they are scheduling new hearings at present is July 28.
“This means not only that landlords can’t clear their properties of tenants who won’t pay rent, but also that tenants who deal drugs, damage property — or even worse criminal behavior — can stay in possession now for more than five months before the landlord can have a hearing to restore possession of the property to him."
The COVID-19 crisis has delayed civil and criminal cases nationwide and in the Tri-State since mid-March.
Hamilton County is no different. The county was set to resume evictions on Monday, June 1 but a court order put them and other proceedings including jury trials on hold until July 1 or “until further order of the courts.”
Russell signed the order, along with the presiding judge for Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, Charles Kubicki, due to “the continued threat to public safety posed by the COVID-19 pandemic," a copy of it states.
The order impacts the county courthouse on Main Street, the Justice Center (jail); and juvenile court and domestic relations courts on Broadway Street in downtown Cincinnati.
Anyone entering must wear a facial covering at all times and have temperature checks. Those with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher won’t be permitted in a court facility.
Those showing signs of respiratory infection such as cough, fever, or shortness of breath can be denied entrance at security’s discretion.
Court officials are expected to meet later this week to discuss best options moving forward and what steps are necessary to resume eviction proceedings.
At last check, 900 to 1,200 cases are pending, according to Hamilton County Clerk of Courts.
The lawsuit, however, contends the order goes too far with respect to evictions.
As part of the recently-passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, there is a federal moratorium on evictions related to federally-backed housing until July 25 and tenants must be given 30 days to leave the property.
But Finney says “it has nothing to do with 99 percent of our clients and our landlord.”
The following counties are now holding eviction hearings: Butler, Warren, Clermont, and Montgomery counties; Franklin County in Columbus, Summit County in Akron and Lucas County in Toledo, according to Finney.
Among the surrounding counties and Ohio’s major urban counties, he said only Mahoning County (Youngstown) and two of four municipal courts in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) are further delaying eviction hearings for COVID-19 issues.
The lawsuit is one in a series of legal actions from Finney’s law firm to reopen Ohio businesses and courts ordered closed by the state due to COVID-19.
We reached out to Judge Russell for comment and the Hamilton’ County Prosecutor’s Office, which represents the judge.
Through a staff member, the judge referred us to the assistant municipal court administrator who said he could not comment on pending litigation.
A spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office also declined comment: “We have not yet been served. If and when we have comment, I will let you know."