Dozens of renters frantically looking for places to live

by: Jason Stoogenke Updated:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Dozens of renters are scrambling to find new places to live. Their southeast Charlotte apartment complex is about to make major renovations, and kicking them out in the meantime. 

Action 9 investigator Jason Stoogenke has been looking into their crisis for days, and now it has the attention of Charlotte City Council.

It was called Brittany Woods. Now, it's called Oakhurst Apartments. Renters here weren't expecting to move. Now they have to, and their deadline is Halloween.

RENTER: "WE NEED MORE TIME"

Renters, like LaTasha Stallworth, never saw it coming.

"We need more time," she says.

She'd like to stay in the same part of town. She called around, but says not much is available, and what is available is quickly climbing out of her price range. She blames gentrification. Like many parts of the Queen City, Oakhurst is changing quickly, becoming an up-and-coming hotspot for young professionals.

"So regardless of the hard-earned coins that folks do pay, it's just not enough because Charlotte's going to bulldoze right over that. I need more money. I want more money," Stallworth says. 

It's an issue city council was talking about Monday night, using the Oakhurst Apartments as an example. 

"These are not wealthy renters that are getting evicted. They're the bottom of pile," said Julie Eiselt.

"The reality is some of these people have been in these homes for many years," said LaWana Mayfield.

And those are the people Stallworth worries about most. 

"We need more time. If you say then, 'No, we can't give you more time,' well, then, help those folks [who have been here] ten-plus years," she said with tears in her eyes.

Folks like her mom. She lives a few units away and has for 18 years.

The management company – Rivergate KW Residential – says these renters will be first in line when the complex reopens. But they assume rent will be higher, perhaps too high for some.

THE LAW

North Carolina law isn't on the renters' side. Once your lease is up, you don't have a right to rent. Section 8 has some different rules, so read your contract. It probably says how many days notice your apartment has to give you.

The Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy (formerly Legal Services of Southern Piedmont) and the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association offer good explanations and detail about renters' rights in this situation.

The Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy says, "The key question ... seems to be whether any of the tenants receive a rent subsidy, and, if so, what kind of subsidy.  Certain subsidy programs (like Public Housing and Project-Based Section 8) have federal regulations/admin policies that give tenants certain rights where landlord is remodeling/destroying complexes in subsidized housing – generally landlord has to relocate tenant to another similarly-sized subsidized unit. There may be some tenants in the apartment complex that receive a subsidy, others who don't. Any that do should contact their caseworker. In fact, any subsidized tenants may have received a notice from the Charlotte Housing Authority about their options.

"For non-subsidized tenants ... if on a month-to-month tenancy, landlords can probably effectively terminate the lease at the end of a monthly term by giving the appropriate notice (minimum of 7 days under state law, which must take effect at the end of the month – could be more/different depending on what the lease provides – in [Oakhurst] case 30 days). If the tenant was still in a term lease, the landlord should not be able to terminate early without breaching the lease contract, so a tenant may have rights to compensation or otherwise in a breach of the lease situation. In a month-to-month termination, the only defenses would be if the eviction notice is defective or if the T could show the eviction was retaliatory (in response to complaints about repairs or tenant exercising some other right under state law), discriminatory or arbitrary. If landlord isn't acting in response to tenant complaints but simply has decided to remodel the whole building and wants the tenant out so landlord can update the property and rent it back out for more money (which could be seen as a legitimate, business-related, non-retaliatory, non-illegal reason, if landlord)."

The Greater Charlotte Apartment Association says, "Of course, a landlord is expected to honor its lease until the end of the term. It’s hard to imagine a good reason to cancel a lease mid-term for renovations except for a sudden catastrophe, not caused by the landlord, that renders the home unrentable, and most authorities recognize that in that scenario the lease effectively ends, since the leasehold is destroyed/unrentable due to no fault of the landlord. However, the real question is whether a landlord is required to renew the lease at all at the end of a term. They are not required to do by NC law, as a general rule. 

 "Now, if the property is subsidized, there would need to be 'good cause' as a basis to non-renewal of a lease under federal law (a principle affirmed by NC case law – where NC recognizes and enforces the rules of federal housing programs as it relates to ejectments, etc.). Whether a renovation/tear down is good cause to non-renew a lease at the end of a lease term is a matter ripe for debate in a courtroom.  That said, if the property itself is not subsidized but merely participates in the Section 8 program, it is my understanding that the landlord can elect to stop accepting Section 8, and like any other tenant whose lease is non-renewed, the landlord can then proceed to regain possession of the property and then perform whatever improvements it desires.

 "Again, however, where the property is a conventional/unsubsidized one, a tenant generally has no right for renewal. It is viewed purely as a property right of the landowner to reclaim their property; thus, the tenant has no right, unless their lease form gives them an absolute right to renew (and most lease forms do not). In fact, NC case law, for the last 37 years, has taken the position that a tenant who is holding over after the end of their lease has no defense to a holdover eviction action. 

"Thus, based on the above, if a landowner wants to improve their property or renovate, most landlords need only wait until the end of the lease terms of its residents;  non-renew those leases;  and then tear down/renovate/improve the property as they wish when those tenants are gone. Issues arise when the tenants believe they have the right to stay and protest accordingly ... but in most cases, the tenants never had a right to remain past the end of their respective lease terms.

"A landlord who anticipates renovation may place a provision within its lease allowing the landlord to move the resident to comparable housing. For this to be effective, the resident would have to agree in advance that the move is a possibility. Also, it would not really qualify as an 'eviction' either."

Next Up: