Landlords And Renters: A Look At How Each Side Is Faring During The Eviction Moratorium
North Carolina has had an eviction moratorium since last fall. Gov. Roy Cooper issued it by executive order and it runs through the end of June. The moratorium protects some tenants who cannot afford to pay the rent because of the pandemic.
On the other end of those postponed rent payments are landlords. Deidre Wilson is board president of the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association and she joins us now as part of our series, Rebuilding Charlotte.
Marshall Terry: Diedre, to give us a sense of where landlords are right now, the National Multifamily Housing Council tracks rent payments and found that so far in May, 80% of rents have been paid. Last month, that number was 95%. What's the number in Charlotte?
Deidre Wilson: Right now, unfortunately, I don't have the accurate data for that due to limited surveying for the landlords. Just haven't had the surveys out to get an accurate count for that.
Terry: Well, do you have just a general sense of what the number is in Charlotte?
Wilson: I would say — and I'm and I'm going to be conservative with this number — but I would probably say about 80%, maybe 85.
Terry: Over the past year, as you've talked with your members at the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association, what was the financial hit for them?
Wilson: It really just depended on the properties because a lot of the properties were working with a lot of the residents, as far as, you know, starting with payment plans — where normally we did not have payment plans, we did not offer payment plans.
But I know some people were upwards of almost $1 million in delinquency by the end of the year. But then, once it started coming down and once they started receiving the aid, people were getting their stimulus and the help from the programs, it has come down tremendously. So some are seeing probably about half that now.
Terry: How has it affected small landlords? You know, mom-and-pop operations versus some of your larger landlords that are more like companies or corporations?
Wilson: I believe the mom-and-pop, it's been harder on them because they may have, let's say, 10 rentals and five of them may be delinquent — and that could financially destroy them.
The larger corporations, there are some things that they probably had to forego. Capital improvements may have been put on hold. Resident functions may have been on a smaller scale versus the grand scale that some property management firms have done. I know some management firms had to scale down in their corporate office. Some people had to be furloughed.
Terry: Do your members feel like the worst is over?
Wilson: I think so. I think they feel like we're getting back on track now. People are able to find jobs and getting back to work. The office is open and some are working from home. Now they have that option of working from home. So I do think we are headed in the right direction. It's just it's been a slow process. But I think we're moving. We're moving along.
Terry: Landlords can demand rent that's due. They could add on late fees. They can also work with tenants through third parties. What have you been telling your members to do as the pandemic wears on?
Wilson: Try and work with your residents. When you try and work with your residents they're going to try and make an honest effort to pay you something. And I think when you look at it from a bigger scale, when you're trying to evict them or you're asking them to leave, you have to get the apartment made ready for someone else to move in. So that cost right there averages, just depending on the site, anywhere from and depending on how it was left, $3,500 to $4,000 per unit.
So why not try and work with them? And then maybe you can develop a good relationship with that person to where they'll know and understand, hey, this is important. Let me do my best to try and get them their money.
Terry: And are they heeding your advice?
Wilson: Yeah. A lot have worked with their residents to try and get that delinquency down as much as they possibly can.
Terry: I'm also curious about what happens to renters who may have found themselves behind on the rent earlier in the pandemic, but now they're all caught up with everything and let's say they now want to find a new place to live. How are landlords addressing maybe a not-so great track record for particular tenants as everyone works their way out of the pandemic?
Wilson: Well, if they are doing a rental reference, then they are calling and we're just stating the facts. We're not giving anything extra. But I do believe some landlords are taking that into consideration, especially if it was a situation where the pandemic was at hand. I think some landlords will be taking that into consideration.
Terry: Thank you so much for joining us.
Wilson: You're welcome. Thank you.
Terry: Deidre Wilson is the board chair of the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association.
To get the perspective from the side of renters, we now turn to Isaac Sturgill. He's an attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina and works with low-income renters who are facing eviction.
Terry: It's been almost exactly a year since we last spoke about renters who have lost their income because of the pandemic and face the possibility of eviction. Based on what you're seeing, give us a sense of how things are now versus a year ago.
Isaac Sturgill: Sure. So some of the protections that were in place a year ago are still in place right now, mainly the CDC moratorium and also the governor's executive order. Those protections are still in place, but unfortunately, what we've seen as time goes on is that more and more landlords are finding ways around those protections.
Specifically, a lot of judges interpret the protections only to apply to nonpayment of rent cases. And so what we're seeing is more and more landlords that are filing cases for things other than nonpayment of rent because they realize that they're not able to proceed on a nonpayment case at this point.
We've also seen more and more landlords challenging the declaration itself. So there's a process that's set out in the governor's order that says that if a landlord doesn't believe that the tenant should be protected under the CDC moratorium, the landlord can file an objection or a response to the declaration, and then they can actually ask for a hearing to get a judge to overrule the protections and allow the eviction case to proceed anyway, despite the CDC moratorium.
And so we've seen an increase in the number of landlords filing those challenges and requesting those hearings, as well. And essentially, they're either saying that this is not a nonpayment case and that the protection should not apply to this case or they're accusing the tenant of lying on the declaration and saying this tenant's not actually eligible for protection under the order.
Terry: How are those challenges playing out in court?
Sturgill: It can kind of depend on the individual case. It can also depend on which county that you're in and which judge that you end up in front of. There are some parts of the eligibility for the CDC protections that seem pretty subjective. So one of the things that the tenant has to say that applies to them is that they are using their "best efforts" to apply for whatever government assistance is available and that also they're using their best efforts to pay whatever rent they can when they can, even if it's not the full amount.
So that "best efforts" language is pretty subjective, right? So you can see one judge that believes, "OK, I do believe this person's using their best efforts." But there may be a different judge that thinks, "Well, I think he could have done more." And it's because of the kind of subjectiveness of those terms that leads to some mixed results in the courts.
Terry: We heard from the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association that many landlords are working with their tenants to try and keep them in their homes. Is that the sense that you get?
Sturgill: I do think that there are plenty of good landlords out there that are trying to work with tenants and do what they can to work things out. And I think there are other landlords that have decided that they're not going to work with them anymore and that they want them out as soon as possible.
We've even seen some situations, an increase in illegal evictions since the moratorium started. Meaning that some landlords, when they're not successful getting people out through the court system because of whatever protections are in place, have taken the law into their own hands and have done things like shutting off tenants' power or changing the locks without a court order.
Terry: Do you anticipate a surge in eviction proceedings when the moratorium is lifted?
Sturgill: I do. I think that these protections, although they're not perfect and although a lot of landlords are finding ways around them, they're still better than nothing. And I think they still are helping thousands of people across the state stay in their home while they try to weather out the storm. And so I do anticipate that if the CDC moratorium and the governor's order both expire at the end of June, which is what they're currently set to do, that we will see a large spike in evictions beginning in July.
Terry: And how do you expect those to play out?
Sturgill: I think it's going to be messy. I think that we had an affordable housing crisis in many places in North Carolina before the pandemic and before people lost income due to that. I know in Mecklenburg County, we were seeing something to the tune of 30,000 cases a year even before COVID.
This moratorium has had a chilling effect on the filing of cases throughout the last several months. But there may be many landlords also that have been waiting and are just waiting for the moratorium to expire before they proceed. So I feel like our system was already kind of overwhelmed with eviction cases before the pandemic. And so I think it's just going to get even worse. I think if nothing else, this is just going to exacerbate the problem.
Terry: What advice are you giving tenants who are behind on their rent who see the end of the moratorium coming soon?
Sturgill: So we're advising them to, you know, obviously save whatever money that they can. We're advising them to apply for whatever rental assistance resources are available. And we're actually a little bit better off in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County than a lot of counties because we have some local organizations that provide rental assistance too. It's not just the statewide efforts.
We've got organizations like the DreamKey program, which provides rental assistance. We've got the Crisis Assistance Ministry and some other organizations like that that have their own pools of money that they can use to help with rental assistance.
So we're telling our clients to apply early. Whatever rental assistance is available, apply as quickly as you can. Follow up with your case worker and, you know, just continuing looking for whatever other income that you can get to start coming in. And where we're able to get people approved for assistance, we're reaching out to landlords and we're trying to make deals with them to resolve these cases.
I think a lot of it is just knowledge. Renters need to call 211 or do whatever research they can to find out what rental assistance programs are available. Keep an eye on the news for any new programs that may come out and just apply early. That's really the best they can do right now.
Terry: Thank you for taking the time.
Sturgill: OK, thank you so much, Marshall.
Terry: That's Isaac Sturgill with Legal Aid of North Carolina.