‘It’s Russian roulette out there’: Tenants face sticker shock as rents rise

CHARLOTTE — Zillow has released its predictions for the hottest housing markets this year and Charlotte ranks fifth. Experts expect prices to climb 21% through November, which is good for sellers but bad for buyers, including renters.

Many renters have been contacting Action 9, saying their leases are up and that their landlords are raising their rent hundreds of dollars per month.

Charlene Phillip and her mother, Thora, have lived together in Concord since 2014. Their current lease ends in February. They told Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke that they were paying a little more than $1,000 each month, but the new rate will be more than $1,350.

Charlene said she’s very worried.

“We didn’t have holidays. I remember I cried all day Thanksgiving day because … this is the first time I’ve ever been in this position to this point where I don’t know what to do,” Charlene said.

“You lose sleep at night,” Thora added.

The Phillips told Stoogenke the pandemic cost Thora her job. Shortly after that happened, Charlene had to have emergency back surgery.

“When I came out, I had no job. I’m an independent contractor,” Charlene said.

They were able to get unemployment benefits and rental assistance for a while, but both have ended or will end soon. Now, they’re living off Thora’s Social Security and hoping Charlene will qualify for disability.

They told Stoogenke that they asked their apartment complex to reconsider the rent increase, but that it said no. They’ve considered moving but have run into one waitlist after another.

“It’s Russian roulette out there,” Charlene said.

The women have renewed their lease, even though they don’t know how they’re going to pay for rent.

According to Zillow, Charlotte’s rent has gone up 18.5% since this time last year with the average bill costing about $1,700 per month. Other markets have experienced an increase as well, including Raleigh, which has gone up 18.1% and Atlanta, which has gone up 22.7%.

“A lot of people actually got relative bargains on rent if they signed a lease about a year ago,” Zillow economist Jeff Tucker said. However, since then, supply has gone down while demand has gone up.

“Vacancy rates are very, very low. There are a lot of folks out there trying to get an apartment. And a lot of people who may have been planning to move out of their apartment and buy their first home who got stymied last year because home prices rose just as fast as rent. So, put that all together and it’s a recipe for a lot of demand pressure on rentals,” Tucker added.

Stoogenke found that the law isn’t on the renter’s side. Landlords can raise the rent when a lease is up.

Many cities across the country limit what landlords can charge with “rent control,” but North Carolina law actually forbids cities and counties from doing that. The only option a renter may have is to pressure state lawmakers to change the law.

Unfortunately, that does not help renters now.

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