CHARLOTTE, NC - There were recently more than 28 thousand evictions in Mecklenburg County in one year alone. What's going on?
Action 9 investigated and found the problem is largely driven by wages not keeping pace with rental costs, a lack of affordable housing, and tenants with no access to legal help.
TENANT: "I HAD TO SCOOP FECES"
Elena Pacheco is a single mother with three children. They had a plumbing issue in an apartment they rented.
"Where I had to scoop feces out to use the bathroom because that's how bad it was," Pacheco told Action 9.
Pacheco complained. She said the landlord didn't respond quickly enough, tempers flared, she withheld rent, and they ended up in court. So who won?
"He did. We had to leave," Pacheco said.
Pacheco and her children found a place to live. It's a small one. It's just one room, so it's tight. The bed is just feet from the stove. But, they're hoping to keep this roof over their heads as long as possible.
"I just tell them we're working our best to try to get something better for us," Pacheco said.
DEPUTY: "I WOULD BE A WRECK AS A HUMAN"
Action 9 tagged along with Corporal Kim Williams of the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office and watched her post yellow eviction notices on homes and not just apartments. One was a house on Mountain Island Lake.
"At the end of the day, when I have the paper in my hand, the order from the judge, it is a job to do," Corporal Williams said. "You can't bring your emotions into all these evictions. I would be a wreck as a human."
Angela Silvers is a former deputy. She told Action 9 that on some days she'd have to evict 10 to 15 families.
"Your life can change just like that," she said.
28,000 MECKLENBURG COUNTY CASES
UNC Charlotte's Urban Institute studied evictions. It looked at one recent year and counted more than 28,000 Mecklenburg County cases. It blames this number on wages not keeping pace with rental costs, a lack of affordable housing, and this: most landlords have lawyers, but most tenants do not. It found many people end up in worse neighborhoods, couch-surfing, or sleeping in their vehicles.
Ted Fillette runs Legal Aid. His team represents renters.
"Most people do not know their rights," he said. For example, he reminds tenants, "Landlords are not allowed to simply take the law in their own hands and change the locks or otherwise try to put a tenant out of their home."
"PLAYING THE SYSTEM"
But not every renter who gets evicted is a blameless victim. "You know that you have people that are playing the system," Silver said. Many break the lease and some break the law, creating problems for other renters.
"It's our job, it's our responsibility, to provide a nice, safe, clean place for people to live," Charlotte landlord Todd Rodriguez Pfalzgraf told Action 9. "If someone jeopardizes that, we have to deal with that problem."
That means eviction. He points out many landlords aren't quick to evict. It's expensive and time-consuming.
"Going to court is a lose-lose situation. Nobody wins," he said.
He said he works with renters who fall on hard times to stay in their apartments. Action 9 hasn't received any confirmed complaints from his tenants.
Know your lease: Think of the lease as the contract you agreed to and signed. If you end up in court, it carries a lot of weight.
Keep good records: Save emails, letters, and texts between you and your landlord. Also, save receipts.
Landlord can't evict you without a court order: The landlord may tell you you're kicked out, but, if he/she hasn't gone to court and tries to kick you out anyway, call police.
You should have a grace period when rent it due: If the lease doesn't have a grace period and you're late, the landlord must 1) demand the money and 2) wait ten days before filing a complaint.
If the court sides with the landlord: You can appeal and the court will waive the fee (usually $150) if you can't afford it.
Don't withhold rent out of protest (unless your lawyer tells you to).
There are 12 imminently dangerous conditions when the landlord can't collect rent:
- Unsafe wiring.
- Unsafe flooring or steps.
- Unsafe ceilings or roofs.
- Unsafe chimneys or flues.
- Lack of potable water.
- Lack of operable locks on all doors leading to the outside.
- Broken windows or lack of operable locks on all windows on the ground level.
- Lack of operable heating facilities capable of heating living areas to 65 degrees Fahrenheit when it is 20 degrees Fahrenheit outside from November 1 through March 31.
- Lack of an operable toilet.
- Lack of an operable bathtub or shower.
- Rat infestation as a result of defects in the structure that make the premises not impervious to rodents.
- Excessive standing water, sewage, or flooding problems caused by plumbing leaks or inadequate drainage that contribute to mosquito infestation or mold.
Drugs: If you bring drugs onto the property, the landlord can evict you even if the lease doesn't mention drugs specifically.
A verbal lease is legal, but get it in writing.
If you're in immediate danger of eviction, there is help.
Crisis Assistance Ministry spends roughly $2.5 million paying emergency rent for people each year. Call (704) 371-3001.
You can also call Legal Aid. It has an emergency hotline: (866) 219-5262. You don't have to be low-income. 90,000 North Carolinians call each year.
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