A Cincinnati-area attorney is filing a lawsuit against Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear to open evictions courts in Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties after a months-long moratorium on evictions due to coronavirus.
The lawsuit, filed by Chris Wiest on behalf of the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Apartment Association, aims to end that moratorium, which Wiest said has been abused by a small portion of tenants.
“There’s no other remedy that’s left for these folks,” Wiest told WCPO. “The court has been shut off as a result of the governor’s order. I think these landlords are literally at the end of their rope.”
Wiest said many landlords in Northern Kentucky offer tenant assistance funds or payment plans to ensure folks can still pay rent even if the coronavirus pandemic has affected their income. But he said a minority of tenants are abusing the governor’s order, not paying and leaving landlords stuck.
“The landlords saw the tenants not paying rent coming in with new flat-screen TVs into their apartments with their stimulus money,” Wiest said.
The statewide moratorium on evictions began March 25 and was set to expire in late July, but Weist says Beshear could extend it to October.
In a statement to WCPO Tuesday, Beshear’s office maintains that the orders “clearly state the suspension of evictions does not relieve tenants’ obligation to pay their rent, to pay their mortgage or comply with any other obligation under their lease or mortgage.”
“The orders also do not remove Kentuckians’ right to seek justice before a court and plainly state they do not interfere with the judicial branch’s authority,” the statement read.
Wiest said Beshear’s current order is still too vague.
“You can be fully employed this whole time, raking it in at your six-figure-a-year job as a tenant, and you don’t have to pay because the governor basically says you can’t do anything about it,” Wiest said.
Renters like Rocco Rea, a restaurant employee hit hard by the coronavirus closures, said he had nowhere to turn. With a new baby, no income, no unemployment assistance and a rent payment due, he reached out to his landlord.
“I told the landlord we weren’t going to pay them because we didn’t have any money,” said Rea, who lives in a rental unit in Covington.
His landlord, a Lexington company, waived the late fee for two months, but Rea said it wasn’t enough.
"They still charged money. They didn’t do anything. It made life easier, because they didn’t try to force me out. I don’t think it was a place of compassion or just reading the room from a business point of view,” he said.
Now, Rea has some government assistance, and it is more money than he was making working 40 hours a week at the restaurant. His family hopes to be able to move into a single-family home soon, and Rea said he would like to see landlords coming up with more options to help during these tough times.
“People are going to go somewhere. If people don’t have money, I don’t know where you think they’re going to go," he said.