Expect a huge backlog when eviction cases start again

Expect a huge backlog when eviction cases start again

Eviction cases were supposed to start up again as early as Monday, but North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper extended the moratorium.

Currently:

  • The courts can’t hear eviction cases for at least three more weeks.
  • Landlords can’t charge you late fees, penalties or interest for late payments.
  • They have to give you at least six months to pay rent you owe.
  • They can kick you out for health or safety reasons.

Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke found out Friday that Mecklenburg County court will go even longer. It’ll wait until July.

When eviction hearings start again, expect a huge backlog.

Mecklenburg County averaged about 2,000 eviction cases per month before the pandemic. So the court postponed cases from the mid-March through June.

More than 7,000 cases are on hold now with more expected to stack up as the pandemic continues.

Jim Surane was a magistrate who heard eviction cases, and he predicts the docket will have more than 9,000 cases. He told Stoogenke the typical case takes at least a month. He expects many to take at least five months now and if a side appeals, it will take more time. Appeals go to district court where the docket was already full before the pandemic.

"I’ve been doing it for 28 years, and I just don’t see how they’re going to process that in a timely fashion without additional human resources," Surane said. "It’s just going to be too much for our system."

Surane represents landlords in court, and he said average rent in Charlotte is $1,300 per month.

For example, if there are 10,000 cases and it takes five months to sort them out, $65 million is at stake.

"A lot of our folks depend on that income for their livelihood, not just for excess cash like a lot of folks think. That’s how they live is by renting property," he said.

And if they can’t pay, they could face foreclosure, which would clog the docket even more.

Isaac Sturgill works for Legal Aid, and he thinks when eviction trials finally get going, they’ll also be slow going for social distancing reasons.

"Even before COVID-19, eviction court was very crowded. It’s like going to a rock concert sometimes. Going into that eviction courtroom, you could be shoulder to shoulder with people. I’ve been in there when it’s standing room only sometimes. So, the courts are concerned about that. They don’t want to put their employees or the public in danger," he told Stoogenke.

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Gloria Grooms told Stoogenke she’s lived in her apartment for more than a decade. She said she was paying $805 a month up until a few months before the pandemic when the complex raised her rent to $1,100.

"I can’t. There’s no way. I only get $1,300 and I have groceries, medicine, power bills like everybody else. I can’t pay $1,100," she said.

Grooms said she’s continued to pay the $805 every month but not the $1,100.

“I feel abused. Nobody’s listening. I’m scared,” she said. “It’s a lot of emotion, and I just don’t know what to do.”

She imagines she’ll end up in court, one of the many.

Keep in mind, landlords can’t evict you without going to court first, so you can stay where you’re living in the meantime. But keep paying what you can in rent.