Groups prepare for surge in evictions as postponements due to COVID-19 ends

Local organizations preparing for surge in evictions as postponement due to COVID-19 ends this week

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - An order from the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court Donald Beatty has postponed court proceedings on evictions and foreclosures in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. The order paused evictions until May 15 but that’s the end of the week, and many might be worried.

“We are in a situation where there are a lot of residents across our community who are really terrified,” Otha Meadows, Charleston Trident Urban League’s President, said.

Our area has some of the highest eviction rates in the country and that was before the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“Most of them are on bare bones and they panic,” George Bresnihan, the Urban League’s Director of Housing Services, said. “Nobody wants to be put on the streets. So that fear is there.”

It’s a reason local organizations, like the Charleston Trident Urban League, are preparing for an influx of people needing help.

“Because we were already at a very high level, as it relates to evictions, we are going to see the floodgates, in essence, opening in that regard,” Meadows said.

According to numbers compiled through the Eviction Lab Project at Princeton University, North Charleston takes the top spot when it comes to evictions in large cities.

Researchers with the project looked through tens of millions of eviction records from 2000 to 2016.

In North Charleston, there were 3,600 evictions in 2016. That amounts to more than 10 households evicted every day.

But North Charleston isn’t the only city on the list. Columbia and Charleston were also in the top 50 when it comes to large cities.

In looking at small cities and rural areas, South Carolina had nearly half of the country’s most eviction-prone areas.

“Unfortunately, I think we are going to see a lot more people being faced with evictions in our community,” Meadows said. “Especially when you look at the affordability issue layered on top of that and the unemployment issue layered on top of that. I just feel that we are going to be in for a very, very difficult time in terms of those persons that are going to be faced with potential evictions in the very near future.”

The Urban League is working with several organizations to have resources in place that people might need.

“We will be able to address the landlord and tenant mediations,” Meadows said. We will also be able to provide rental assistance that we’ve had funding in the pipeline… At the end of the day, there’s never going to be enough money to address the needs of this community and I just think that need is going to grow exponentially as we move into the next month to six weeks.”

Other organizations are asking for the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court to extend the eviction stay. But, they are also gearing up in case that doesn’t happen.

“We're trying to help organize groups of attorneys to assist people with eviction filings when those do come,” Adam Protheroe, a Litigation Attorney with the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center, said.

Protheroe said if you are served with eviction papers, to first try and work things out with your landlord. If that doesn’t work, contact an attorney or one of the organizations, like the Charleston Trident Urban League or S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center, that are ready to help.

Protheroe advised to request a hearing within 10 days of getting eviction papers. Even though evictions are on hold right now, the court may say that you gave up your right to a hearing if you didn’t ask for one within that 10 days.

The South Carolina Bar Lawyer Referral Service – (800) 868-2284 – can give you the name of a lawyer who may be able to help. If you can’t afford to pay an attorney, you can call South Carolina Legal Services at (888) 346-5592 or apply online to see if you can get free legal advice or representation.

Chief Justice Beatty has said the order postponing evictions does not mean people can avoid paying rent. If they fail to pay rent, an eviction may proceed once the postponement has passed. That also goes for people paying mortgages.

One exemption to this order is property that falls under the federal CARES Act. The CARES Act protects tenants who live in rental properties or homes with “federal assistance or federally related financing.” That includes public housing, Housing Choice Vouchers, Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance, rural housing programs, and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program. Those residents are protected from eviction and foreclosure until Aug. 23, 2020.

Once eligible eviction proceedings resume in South Carolina on May 15, Beatty said in-person hearings will be staggered to limit the number of people in courtrooms and to allow cleaning in between hearings.

Also, anyone attending an in-person hearing can be ordered by the judge to wear a mask under the order. The order states judges should not hold in-person hearings if doing so unreasonably risks the health of judicial staff or litigants,” the order states. Remote, virtual hearings may also be held.

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