CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has put many people in tough financial spots as they try to make ends meet, with countless struggling to pay their rent.
But now, renters at City Inn in southwest Charlotte say they are being shamed for not being able to pay.
They discovered a “Wall of Shame” in the office of the City Inn for any and everyone to see. It has pictures of their driver’s licenses and information posted.
It also is labeled with how much money they each owe, with phrases like “shame on you.”
Katrina Atkinson is one of the renters whose face is on the board.
“It’s terrible. I’m just so ashamed and embarrassed,” she said.
Atkinson and her fiancé Douglas have been living at the City Inn off Nations Ford Road for 1 1/2 years. When Douglas lost his job in October, they began to fall behind on the weekly rent of $280. Atkinson works part-time at the Dollar Tree, but it isn’t enough.
“I was in shock,” she said through tears. “Over my head, it says I owe $4,300. And on top of the board it says, ‘shame on you.’ It makes us feel less than, like, we are less than human.”
The current moratorium on evictions prevents landlords from kicking renters out on the street. But renters feel the motel is trying to shame them into leaving, even though they have nowhere to go.
“The fact that she took time to decorate it and color it like it was some kind of school project is really just insulting,” Atkinson said.
More than a dozen photos are on the board, including one of Shana Jones. She said her 14-year-old daughter discovered her on the poster.
“She felt really hurt from what they have done,” said Jones.
Jones said she paid her rent until her unemployment ran out in November. She has a 6-week-old baby and is trying to get back to work.
Jones said she was already the victim of identity theft once and is worried about it happening again.
“Not only do they have our driver’s license, they have our Social Security cards,” she said.
Atkinson told Channel 9 she confronted the motel manager about the board and was told the owner is frustrated.
“She said, ‘He wants his money, and he wants you all out of here, so this is the last straw,’” Atkinson said.
A local attorney told Channel 9 that the wall at the motel showing pictures of tenant’s drivers licenses and person information is illegal and that those residents could sue.
Attorney Sharon Dove with the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy said it violated the North Carolina Debt Collection Practices Act. The act prevents a debt collector, in this case the landlord, from publishing or posting lists of consumers. Dove said the “Wall of Shame” could qualify as harassment.
In addition to that, the motel owner could face a lawsuit for any actual damages that occur if someone’s identity is stolen.
“It’s a serious matter to publish a wall of shame like this for the purpose of humiliating tenants,” Dove said. “The act of putting up this wall of shame subjects the landlords to statutory damages in the amount of $500 to $4,000 per occurrence. Tenants would also have the right to seek actual damages.”
We reached out to motel manager, Robin McNeely, multiple times on Wednesday and Thursday. She said she would speak to a member of our staff but never responded.
Channel 9 has interviewed McNeely several times about the financial difficulties motels face when renters can’t pay. In April, McNeely told us the motel was working with its tenants.
“To torture us because we are going through this pandemic is sad,” said Crystal Hoss, who also lives at City Inn.
Renters said they’ve applied for help, but organizations tell them they either don’t qualify for assistance because they’re in a motel or there just isn’t any money left.
While they are behind on rent at the City Inn, they will face homelessness if they leave.
“Where am I going to go?” asked Atkinson.
She said she and her fiancé received an eviction notice and have a court date in February. There currently is a moratorium on evictions until March 31.