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October 16, 2021

End to the state’s eviction moratorium means less required of landlords, less protection for renters

SALISBURY — Rowan County renters lost a layer of protection earlier last week when the North Carolina Council of State voted to end the state’s eviction moratorium at the end of June.

The council of state’s decision was a rejection of Gov. Roy Cooper’s request to extend the moratorium for another month. Although North Carolina renters are no longer shielded by the state, they are still subject to protections from the Center for Disease Control’s temporary halt on evictions. That moratorium will expire on July 31.

As the CDC’s moratorium remains in place, the end of the state’s ban will have an impact on what is required of landlords.

“I think of the state moratorium more as a complement to the CDC moratorium,” said Isaac Sturgill, housing practice group manager for Legal Aid of North Carolina. “What the state executive order did was it required some additional procedural things landlords had to do if they wanted to proceed with an eviction case.”

One of those requirements was to provide a tenant with a copy of the CDC’s eviction protection declaration. The declaration notified the tenant of their rights under the moratorium and provided them with some information on available resources. With the state’s ban on evictions lifted, landlords no longer need to provide the form or sign an affidavit declaring that they provided the form.

The end to the state’s moratorium was heralded by N.C. Realtors, a nonprofit organization that represents 54,000 members throughout the state. 

“As we have noted, like many other industries, small business housing providers are struggling to recover from the pandemic and deserve to be included in the economic recovery at-hand,” the organization said in a statement.

The move is also welcomed by some local property management companies, including Bean Realty Company. Beth Bean, the co-owner of the company, said the eviction moratorium has impacted property owners who rent out residences in Rowan County through Bean Realty.

“What a lot of folks don’t realize is some of the owners have mortgages on properties they’re leasing out, and when the rent isn’t coming in they can’t make their mortgage and there’s not been relief for them,” Beth Bean said. “It’s an awkward position. It’s not pleasant.”

The moratorium has equally impacted their business.

“It’s put a strain on everybody,” said Ron Bean, Beth’s husband. “We make our income on what we collect, not what people owe, so it hurts our income also.”

Dan Waggoner, owner of Waggoner Realty Company, said the moratorium has been a “double-edged sword.”

“We understand that folks could not work and did not have their normal income but the property owners are still having to maintain their property with limited or no income,” Waggoner said. “Taxes, insurance, and maintenance did not stop. If we are limited in the tools to do the job, it becomes a more difficult task.”

Some property managers who haven’t been impacted as much by the moratorium don’t expect the lifting of the state’s ban to bring about any seismic shifts. 

Lane Yates, owner of Lane Yates Realty, said he doesn’t expect any changes to his business because most of his residential renters have kept up with their monthly rent. William Brown, the owner of Rowan Properties, shares that assessment.

“For our specific company, and our tenant collection issues, I don’t see it being a major factor,” Brown said.

Brown said his company has about 140 tenants in units ranging in rent from $500 to $2,500 per month. Of those tenants, Brown said only one is currently at risk of eviction.

“Over the whole course of the pandemic, we fortunately have not had that many tenants that we needed to evict but were unable to,” Brown said. “It did not put a crimp in it as much as I feared it would.”

One reason his company hasn’t felt the crunch of nonpayment, Brown said, is because of the rent assistance that has been available to tenants from both the state and federal governments. 

One such resource is North Carolina’s Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions (HOPE) Program. The HOPE Program serves low-income renters in 88 North Carolina counties, including Rowan. Eligible applicants can receive up to 12 months of rent assistance, which may include up to nine months of past due rent. The program is in its second round.

“I’m having renters now getting second-round payments that got payments four or five months ago and are now getting additional HOPE Program money,” Brown said. “I’m going to say somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-10 renters probably.”

Waggoner said his company informed renters about the HOPE Program and about 10 of his renters are currently using the funding.

Sturgill said the HOPE program has been a benefit to many renters across the state, but believes it has still been underutilized.

Even when both the state and federal evictions moratoriums were in place, the temporary bans were not bulletproof. Rowan County Chief Magistrate Todd Wyrick, who has jurisdiction over evictions filed in the county, said he thinks the word “moratorium” is too strong for the rules that have been in place.

Landlords are still able to move forward with an eviction under the CDC’s rules if they claim a tenant did not use their “best efforts to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing.” Whether or not a renter has done that is ultimately up to a district judge. That leaves room for subjectivity, Sturgill said. If a judge decides that the landlord’s claim is valid, the eviction can proceed. Landlords can also evict tenants for other clauses, including criminal activity or damages.

Both Ron Bean and Brown said they’ve evicted tenants in the past several months.

Some of his tenants, Ron Bean said, didn’t seek resources because they believed that it wasn’t required of them.

“Most of them, to be honest with you, sat back and listened to the news and the news leads them to believe they can’t be evicted,” Ron Bean said. “We educate them a little bit and tell them, ‘You have to be actively be doing something to get (rent assistance) or we can evict you.’”

Confusion amongst renters and property managers, Sturgill said, has been a persistent problem since the eviction moratoriums were put in place at the start of the pandemic.

“For landlords and tenants, the last year has been super confusing.” Sturgill said. “It’s kind of this patch work of different laws and changes that have come out. It’s my job to keep up with that and it’s even difficult for me to do it.”

Waggoner said the biggest challenge during the state’s eviction moratorium was keeping renters informed of the rules.

“The confusion seems to come from the different interpretations of ruling,” Waggoner said. “The news has one interpretation and the lawyers advising the courts have a different interpretation.”

Regardless of the gray areas in the rules regarding the moratoriums, Wyrick said evictions were “significantly down” since the CDC and state bans were put in place. Compared to between 60-100 evictions being filed a week before the pandemic, Wyrick has seen somewhere between 5-15 filed while the moratoriums were in place.

Wyrick said he expects evictions to rise again now that the state’s moratorium has been lifted and the CDC’s is set to expire at the end of July.

“I anticipate that the number will rise,” Wyrick said. “I don’t know how sharply, but I think it will rise within the next month for sure.”

Renters who are looking for assistance can visit rebuild.nc.gov to apply for the Hope program, or they can call 800-569-4287 or go to hudexchange.info to get contact information for a local housing counselor. Rowan Helping Ministries is also offering financial assistance to those in crisis and can be contacted at 704-637-6838 ext. 226 or by email at crisisteam@rowanhelpingministries.org.

Low-income renters who have been served eviction papers can call Legal Aid of North Carolina at 866-219-5262 to determine their eligibility for free legal assistance.

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