Community Health

3/17/20 update: The Jefferson County Sheriff has stopped executing eviction orders.

Lt. Col. Carl Yates said the agency “got word from the courts” to stop executing the orders late Monday evening.He said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer also announced the procedure change on the radio Tuesday morning.

Until now, the sheriff has continued to execute eviction orders, even as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads and government officials pressure residents to stay home.The sheriff executed 14 eviction orders on Monday and had more than 60 scheduled for this week. The remaining orders will be put on hold until further notice, Yates said.

3/16/20 original story: The Jefferson County Sheriff will continue to execute eviction orders, even as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads and sparks cancellations and closures across the state.

On Monday the sheriff’s department had 14 eviction orders scheduled, according to Lt. Col. Carl Yates, the department’s public information officer. There are more than 60 eviction orders scheduled for this week.

Yates said the department is following judges’ orders.

“These are not decisions made by us, these are decisions made by judges,” he said. “Our duties are to carry out those orders until we are told to stop.”

Yates said 14 eviction set outs a day is “about average.”

Sheriff deputies are tasked with supervising the eviction set-out process. The deputies look on as a landlord or their hired hands remove tenants’ belongings, which is allowed after a judge signs a warrant of possession.

Eviction cases are settled in Jefferson District Court.

Chief Jefferson District Judge Anne Haynie could not be reached for comment.

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Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton issued an order last week that severely limits the scope of court proceedings as the pandemic spreads. Ongoing eviction cases are to be continued for a later date, according to the order.

But the order does not address cases that had already made it through court and which await to be executed by the sheriff. Dozens of eviction orders were signed as late as Thursday of last week, before Minton’s order.

This means countless residents now face the threat of losing their housing, even as government officials stress the importance of staying home and avoiding crowds. For some residents set to be evicted, a crowded homeless shelter may be the only option.

“The Kentucky Supreme Court recognized that the cost to landlords of a delay to have eviction cases rescheduled until after April 10 is outweighed by the public good of not having people gather in courts,” said Cathy Hinko, executive director of the Metro Housing Coalition. “The same balance of public good, to not have families and children and elderly put on the street during this crisis, should apply to the set out process.”

It’s unclear how many of the evictions were for Louisville Metro Housing Authority tenants, but an LMHA spokesperson said via email Monday evening, after this story was published, that the agency will suspend evictions and set outs for those evictions that were already signed by the court.

“We have reached out to participants to ensure they are reporting any losses in income to ensure sustained home security as well,” the statement said. “LMHA is continuing daily sanitation of high traffic areas, have closed all common spaces and are limiting visitors to encourage social distancing. Property managers and case managers are continuing to remind residents of the importance of good disease prevention habits.”

The offices of Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear or Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer didn’t respond to a request for comment. Beshear said during his Monday evening briefing that he didn’t want to see people getting evicted.

Louisville’s eviction rate was nearly double the national average in 2016, according to data from Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. Each year, about 7,500 households are evicted in the city.

This story has been updated.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.