Plain language eviction summons can help Oklahomans in eviction court

Call to Action

HB 2792, filed during the 2023 legislative session by Rep. Preston Stinson, would update eviction summons language. The bill has been assigned to the House Civil Judiciary Committee and is scheduled for a committee hearing on Thursday, March 2. Please contact members of the committee to encourage voting YES on this bill.

Oklahoma’s civil courts should be fair and accessible for all residents. Tenants facing eviction, as well as their landlords, should have legal documents that clearly explain the process and the rights of the parties involved. The current eviction summons – the document a tenant receives to let them know they are being sued by their landlord for eviction – uses dense, legal language that is hard for everyday folks to understand. Rewriting the eviction summons into plain language will create fairness in eviction proceedings by explaining the process to all parties and making it clear when they are supposed to be in court and the consequences of not appearing.

The current eviction summons language is not understandable for the average Oklahoman

An eviction summons is the first and only court document that a tenant receives if they are sued by their landlord in the eviction process. The summons tells the tenant when they are supposed to leave the property, how much they owe, and when they are due to show up in court. Oklahomans who work directly with people facing eviction report that many people who receive this summons do not understand what it means or what they are supposed to do because the wording is not straightforward. 

Image of Oklahoma eviction summons Oklahoma’s eviction summons was written over 50 years ago – the same year Led Zeppelin first played “Stairway to Heaven” live, millions of families tuned in each Saturday night to watch “All in the Family,” and a gallon of gas cost 36 cents. Additionally, the eviction summons is written in a language that is not understandable to most people, even back then. The first sentence reads: “You are hereby directed to relinquish immediately to the plaintiff herein total possession of the real property described as …” This is not language that most Oklahomans use and understand. The current summons language reads at a 14th-grade level, while roughly half of U.S. adults read below a sixth-grade reading level. Tenants may not realize that they have a day in court to argue their case if they think they have been wrongly evicted, or understand the consequences of not showing up in court. A tenant who does not appear in eviction court will be evicted and may also owe the landlord back rent and court fees. Plain language eviction summons would mean more Oklahomans could understand their current legal situation.

Eviction summons should be easily understood to people without a lawyer

Eviction cases in Oklahoma are heard in small claims courts. Small claims court is designed to be a simple system to resolve conflicts between people, many of whom do not have a lawyer. Because small claims court is part of the civil justice system, not the criminal justice system, people being sued in small claims court are not guaranteed access to a lawyer. Tenants who have legal representation have much greater odds of remaining in their home. However, Oklahoma’s current system puts a thumb on the scale in favor of wealthy landlords, who are much more likely to have lawyers. The system could be made more fair by adopting right-to-counsel programs like several cities have – including Cleveland and Kansas City – and three states (Washington, Connecticut, and Maryland). A guaranteed right to counsel, like the one proposed by House Bill 2726 being considered during the 2023 legislative session, would help foster equitable outcomes for everyday Oklahomans. Regardless, it is imperative that court documents are understandable for Oklahomans who don’t have a law degree or access to a lawyer.

Lawyers help their clients understand court documents like eviction summons: what tenants’ rights are, where and when they are supposed to be in court, and the consequences of not showing up to court.  Since Oklahoma tenants most often do not have a lawyer to give them this information, updating the eviction summons to use plain language will help them understand what they can do. When tenants show up in court, they are more likely to be able to negotiate a deal with their landlord that keeps them in their home. If tenants miss their eviction hearing, they are automatically evicted and often owe back rent and court fees. 

Landlords – especially large corporate landlords – are much more likely than tenants to have a lawyer. In summer 2022, an Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation study found that 51 percent of Oklahoma landlords had a lawyer in eviction court while only 4 percent of tenants did. Therefore, landlords are more likely to be successful in court because they have lawyers to explain and interpret court documents and processes for them. They also benefit when tenants don’t show up in court because they didn’t understand the eviction summons. When both parties have equal access to information about the process and their rights, it helps balance the scales of justice. 

Smaller “mom and pop” landlords without legal representation and landlords in rural parts of the state would also benefit from a plain language eviction summons. Twenty-three Oklahoma counties have 10 or fewer lawyers and 13 counties have five or fewer lawyers according to the Oklahoma Bar Association. Landlords without access to a lawyer also rely on these forms and need them in accessible language to understand the eviction process.

Legal proceedings should be clear for tenants facing eviction

All parties should have equal access to information about eviction proceedings, and no one should need a law degree to understand basic court documents. This is especially true for eviction cases, which are heard in a court designed for people without legal representation. The final outcome from eviction cases will be more equitable when all parties are aware of their rights and responsibilities. Creating an updated eviction summons in plain, understandable language would be a step in that right direction.


Sabine Brown joined the Oklahoma Policy Institute as Housing Senior Policy Analyst in January 2022. She previously worked at OK Policy from January 2018 until September 2020 as the Outreach and Legislative Director, and earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa. Before joining OK Policy she served as the Oklahoma Chapter Leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Sabine also earned a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Health Science from the University of Oklahoma and was a physician assistant prior to discovering advocacy work. She grew up in Germany but has called Oklahoma home since 1998.

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