Local Courts Promoting Eviction Diversion Program and Other Resources
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Aug. 26, 2020)
Oak Park, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, Royal Oak Township, Ferndale, Hazel Park, and Madison Heights, MI – While courts closed their doors due to the COVID-19 crisis, the judges and staff have kept their hearts open as they work to help those facing eviction and other challenges.
Judge Michelle Friedman Appel of the 45th District Court attended the most recent Oak Park City Council meeting to let residents and city leaders know about ways the court is helping during the pandemic. The 45th District Court serves Oak Park, Royal Oak Township, Pleasant Ridge, and Huntington Woods. She also answered questions following the meeting.
“In response to COVID, the45th District Court closed its doors to the public on March 16, 2020. Since closing we have continued our operations with a reduced staff. The judges are present in the building every day to handle arraignments and time sensitive matters. All proceedings are done virtually via Zoom,” she said when asked how things have changed for the courts since the crisis began.
”Between March 16, 2020 and June 23, 2020 all traffic tickets were put on hold and therefore an individual’s failure to pay a ticket did not result in their license being suspended. After June 23rd the holds were lifted, although no suspensions were initially issued. Notices were sent to all individuals who had been issued tickets between March and June. Payment plans and extensions were granted if requested. All requests for reduction in fines and costs were considered and granted based up the individual’s ability to pay.
“Between March 16, 2020 and June 18, 2020, we stayed the service all legal process and suspended action on all collection requests.
“Between March 16, 2020 all evictions were stayed until the moratorium on evictions was lifted on July 25, 2020.”
Now that the ban is lifted, landlords and tenants are still grappling with how to cover costs. The Eviction Diversion Program was created by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to provide emergency funding to help those impacted by the COVID crisis. The program helps landlords and tenants by covering rent with some concessions by the landlord, including removal of late fees.
Courts across the state, including the 45th and 43rd in SE Oakland County are helping to spread the word about the program by providing fliers to those interact with the courts.
“If someone is about to be evicted, I can no longer evict them until I refer them for free legal services,” Judge Appel said.
Judge Joseph Long, Chief Judge of the 43rd District Court serving Ferndale, Hazel Park, and Madison Heights, has also been sharing the info. “I do not know how many people have resolved their cases through the State program because there are no requirements that we be notified. It is certainly a very fair way to deal with landlords and tenants as nobody is immune from the economic effects of COVID-19,” Longo said.
The flier includes info for Lakeshore Legal Aid and Community Housing Network. The flier lets people know “You have the right to raise defenses and you have the right to be represented by an attorney. You may be eligible for assistance in paying your rent.”
Community Housing Network manages the Eviction Diversion Program, and their site indicates high volumes of requests. It states there are 14 staff members each working to respond to the hundreds of phone calls each day, but that all calls will be returned. They encourage people to fill out the forms provided on their website.
“In addition to completing this paperwork in advance, it is advisable to also reach out to Lakeshore Legal Aid regarding legal assistance by calling the Lakeshore Legal Aid Hotline at 866-248-8715 or you can apply online at www.michiganlegalhelp.org. A designated attorney will work with you to complete a settlement agreement between you and your landlord.”
It’s still too early to tell how many people will face eviction due to the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic.
“We were anticipating a problem but so far it has not materialized. Our Landlord/Tenant docket is only 10% higher than usual and we should be completely caught up in a few weeks,” Judge Longo told Oakland County Times.
The court in Oak Park has also seen fewer than expected. “Since March 16, 2020, this court has not signed any Orders of Eviction. We have not necessarily seen an increase in eviction requests because landlords and attorney for landlords knew that the court was prohibited from issuing Orders of Eviction. Currently any requests for eviction are scheduled on the court’s eviction diversion docket,” Judge Appel said.
“The 45th District Court had its first Eviction Diversion Docket on August 24, 2020. Going forward we will be hearing these cases on Monday and Wednesday morning of each week. It is too early to provide you with information regarding how many evictions have been avoided, but I have already been advised anecdotally of instances where the landlord has been paid directly by CHN and cases were dismissed.”
In addition to the COVID-prompted diversions, courts offer information and resources year-round.
“In general, we maintain a list of resources to give free legal advice to all civil litigants that do not have a lawyer. We have done that for years,” Judge Longo said. “We also maintain a supply of booklets about the Landlord/ Tenant Act . This is published by the State of Michigan and provided to us for free by State Rep. Robert Wittenberg and those that proceeded him. It explains the rights and obligations of both Landlords and Tenants. It also explain the court procedure and appeal rights. It is given to all non-represented tenants and landlords that want one. It is also available to any citizen that requests it.”
More information and resources:
Lakeshore Legal Aid
Community Housing Network.
43rd District Court
45th District Court
Oakland County Times Resource Page