Eviction Diverson: County's 1st program off to successful start


– Photo by John Meiu

Meeting outside Pontiac City Council chambers after the presentation on the eviction diversion program are (left to right) Oakland County Commissioner David Bowman (D-District 10), Chief Judge Cynthia Walker of 50th District Court and Kelly Bidelman of Legal Aid and Defender Association.

Oakland County’s first eviction diversion program is off to a successful start, Oakland County 50th District Court Chief Judge Cynthia Walker reported to Pontiac City Council June 18.

The program makes it possible for tenants facing eviction to remain in residential rental properties by paying up to three months of their outstanding rent, Walker said.

Both landlords and tenants must agree to participate in program, Walker said. Generally, eligible tenants are those who would have paid their rent but had temporarily fallen behind in their payments because of financial setbacks, she said.

The Oakland office of Detroit-based Legal Aid and Defender Association Inc. (LAD) collaborated with the court, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the Community Housing Network and other community partners in Oakland County to develop the program.

LAD’s Macomb County office has operated a similar program at 37th District Court in Warren for a year and a half. The Macomb and Oakland programs are modeled on one at 8th District Court in Kalamazoo.

“We are so pleased to bring the eviction diversion program to the city of Pontiac,” Kelly Bidelman, managing attorney of LAD’s Macomb and Oakland offices, told the council. “Judge Walker has been so gracious in allowing this program to come to her court,” she said.

A landlord initiates action under the program by filing a notice of eviction for nonpayment of rent with the court, Bidelman said. The court clerk then informs the landlord of the program and advises him that if he wants to keep the tenant, he should fill out a flyer with information needed by the community partners that fund the program.

The flyer is served on the tenant, who is directed to call the Community Housing Network, which sets up a meeting with the tenant and all the community partners to provide rental assistance for up to three months. If the tenant is a veteran, he may be able to get assistance for up to six months.

The program prevents tenants from first having to go to the DHHS and then to individual agencies to come up with assistance they need, Bidelman said.

At the meeting with the community partners, the tenant is given a letter of commitment stating what they will pay. The case is then scheduled for a hearing before Judge Walker. At the hearing, a LAD attorney represents the tenant and negotiates a conditional dismissal, Bidelman said.

“The landlord will receive assured and accelerated payment of outstanding rent, and the tenant will receive a conditional dismissal instead of a judgment,” Walker said. “Since tenants will not have judgments on their records, it will not negatively impact their credit,” she said.

Only if the community partners don’t pay can the landlord go back and get a judgment against the tenant, Bidelman said. That hasn’t happened in Pontiac, however, and happened only once Warren because the tenant didn’t comply with the requirements, she said.

“The program has run very smoothly,” Walker said, with six cases having been processed since it began. “It’s a win/win for both the landlord and the tenant.”

Bidelman said that she and Walker met with the Pontiac Landlords Association to inform members of the program. “They fully embraced it because they don’t want vacant properties and they want to keep good tenants,” she said.

For additional information on the program, contact Bidelman at 248-253-1548, ext. 4003, or KBidelma@ladadetroit.org.