With state and federal moratoriums on evictions now ended, local courts and legal organizations anticipate eviction cases will fill small claims court in the coming weeks.
When millions of Americans started losing jobs because of business shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic, Congress approved a temporary moratorium that prevented landlords from filing evictions for nonpayment if they federally-backed mortgages on their rental property or participated in federal rent subsidies. The moratorium extended from March 27 and July 25.
The order also required landlords to provide a 30-day notice of eviction before requiring the tenant to leave the rental property. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper built on that moratorium, staying evictions for nonpayment on all rental property from May 30 to June 20.
“We had a very big explosion at the beginning of the month, as soon as we could start hearing these cases again,” said Pitt County Assistant Clerk of Court Nancy Ray.
A breakdown of monthly filings was unavailable, Ray said, but as of July 27 there were 137 summary ejections, the legal term for evictions, pending. Multiple cases were being prepared on Monday, she said, so she expected the number to increase.
Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit organization that provides free legal assistance to low-income people facing civil court matters.
Its Greenville office serves 11 eastern North Carolina counties: Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Hyde, Jones, Martin, Pamlico, Pitt, Tyrrell and Washington. It also provides domestic violence assistance to individuals living in Onslow County.
Eviction is one of the areas that has the largest number of cases handled by the office, said Sandy Lee, managing attorney of the Greenville office.
The office has already opened 73 eviction cases this year, even with a moratorium in place March through much of June, Lee said. That’s the same number handled January through July in 2019 with no moratorium, she said.
“It’s interesting because with the moratorium in place, there were months where there weren’t courts — evictions weren’t happening in the court system,” Lee said.
Most evictions handled by office typically come from Pitt County, she said. “The majority of what we have ... are in Pitt County, because it’s one of the more populated counties we serve and it’s where we are seated,” she said.
Like Ray, Lee saw the number of eviction cases grow in late June, when Cooper’s moratorium expired. The number of cases at her office doubled what they were in June 2019.
She believes it’s a combination of a backlog of cases that were filed before the courts closed in March and new cases.
In July, Lee said her office has only had about half the cases it had last year. She’s unsure why that occurred.
With the federal moratorium ending on July 25, landlords who are part of a federal program must notify their tenants that they plan to evict them in 30 days, Lee said, so she expects a spike in late August.
Of the eviction cases currently coming into his office, the majority involve reasons other than nonpayment of rent, Lee said.
Along with not paying rent, landlords can seek evictions if a tenant doesn’t vacate the property once the lease has expired, breaches of the conditions of the lease, or criminal activity.
“I think that’s because nonpayment cases were put on hold, so some of what we’ve seen is evictions based on other issues, but I anticipate the nonpayment issues will absolutely pick up. That’s the feeling across the state,” she said.
Community aid groups across Pitt County are fielding more calls from individuals seeking help with their rental payments.
Community Unity Network, a division of Churches Outreach Network, matches people who need assistance with the organization that best suits their needs.
The Rev. Rodney Coles Sr., the network’s director, said Community Unity has already helped 1,260 families as of July, providing $163,000 in rent and utility assistance.