Mecklenburg Courthouse To Use Mediation To Avoid Eviction Hearings
When the Mecklenburg County courthouse expands operations on Monday, there won't be an immediate wave of new eviction orders for tenants behind on the rent. Instead, landlords and tenants will be asked to negotiate out of court.
More than 1,800 eviction cases are pending in Mecklenburg County, with more being added daily. Most of the tenants have lost jobs or income during the coronavirus pandemic and have not been able to keep up with their rent. So there's concern about a spike in evictions.
But Mecklenburg County Chief District Court Judge Elizabeth Trosch said evictions -- or summary ejectments, as they're known -- aren't a priority right now. Trosch said the courthouse will prioritize more serious cases in June, including child abuse and neglect, felonies, and domestic violence.
“Our hope is that we can expand further in July," Trosch said. "We do expect in July to bring in our summary ejectment and small claims courts."
Devising A Process
Court officials met four times in recent weeks with lawyers for tenants and rental owners. They worked out an agreement that calls for mediation, with the help of the city's Community Relations Committee dispute resolution program.
Juan Hernandez of the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy was in on those meetings and explained how it will work.
“It is non-binding mediation. And it is voluntary,” he said. “Most of the mediators are volunteer mediators from the community. Everything is going to be done through some sort of Zoom or video conferencing system. So there is no worry about being in person.”
Tenants still have to pay the rent. But Hernandez says some could have their bills paid quickly with the help of public and private rental assistance funds.
Property Owners Eager For Relief, Too
Kim Graham is head of the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association. She says the process -- and the rental assistance -- would be a relief to rental property owners, who have their own bills to pay.
"We believe that the courts may be able to dispense with about five or six hundred cases per week that will be diverted from the normal court docket,” Graham said.
Meanwhile, some eviction orders approved before the coronavirus hit in mid-March have been suspended. Mecklenburg Sheriff Garry McFadden said unless state officials order a delay, he has no choice but to begin serving eviction papers again starting Monday.
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