1.3 Million Oklahomans at Risk, Oklahoma Landlords Can Legally Retaliate Against Renters

KTUL - March 12, 2024 6:05 am

Oklahoma is one of six states where landlords can legally retaliate against tenants.

“44 other states have figured this out starting well back in the 70s.” Katie Dilks, executive director of Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation, said. “It was actually part of the uniform recommended law at the time that most states based their tenant law on and it was just baked in from the beginning and when Oklahoma adopted the on the residential landlord-tenant act in 1978. They did so based on that model law, but excluding pretty much all of the tenant remedies, including the anti-retaliation protections.”

That remains true over 50 years later.

So, what does this mean for the over 1.3 million renters in Oklahoma?

“What is protected in anti-retaliation protections is it’s a landlord cannot take a certain set like type of action against a tenant who has generally filed a complaint maybe with the health department, requested a repair, joined the tenants union, or generally used any of their rights that are available to them under the law, and they can’t retaliate by terminating a lease by raising their rent by decreasing services or by filing an eviction,” Dilks said. “So those are generally the four main things that are protected with anti-retaliation laws.”

But, none of those are protected in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma lawmakers had the opportunity to remedy this concern in the 2023 legislative session by passing House Bill 2109, which would have added anti-retaliation protections to our landlord-tenant act, but the bill failed to advance.

This leaves Oklahoma tenants vulnerable to landlords, and the most vulnerable are often most impacted.

For example, government-subsidized housing is held to a certain standard which the property must obtain to continue receiving public funds.

“If you’re violating them, you can get fined or completely cut off from being able to access the funds,” Eric Strocen, attorney, said.

And a tenant’s complaint could potentially reveal a violation of those standards.

Therefore, “complainers are public enemy number one,” according to Oklahoma legal advocate Robert Mann.

A government-subsidized property might see a complaint as a threat to funding or its reputation and retaliate against the tenant who made the complaint to prevent future complaints.

Which again, is not a violation of Oklahoma law.

And this power imbalance is happening right in our backyard.

A Tulsa woman claims her North Tulsa senior living facility is mistreating residents who have complained.

Mrs. Terrell Wright recounts the mistreatment she says she’s faced since the day she moved into an affordable living complex in North Tulsa back in 2020.

“When I moved in here my apartment was filthy,” Wright said. “It looked like in the washing machine they had been making mud pie.”

She said she complained to management about the filth, the low water pressure, and the absence of hot water in her apartment.

All things Mrs. Wright expected to be addressed by her landlord.

Mrs. Wright claims those initial complaints served as the starting point of her conflict with the landlord.

“They told me if I complained one more time they were going to put me out,” Wright said.

 

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