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Many evictions in South Carolina are driven by rising rents, legal group says

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The number of people seeking help for evictions from South Carolina Legal Services is on pace to match the group's record set in 2021.

Staff attorney Mark Fessler said that in 2021, the group received applications for help from a record 1,500 tenants facing eviction from private landlords.

That was a 35% increase from 2019, Fessler said, and came despite pandemic-related protections like the eviction moratorium and emergency COVID-19 rent relief.

Now 2022 is on pace to match that number, Fessler said, in part because of the loss of those protections, and because increasing property values and a tight housing market have allowed many landlords to raise rents sometimes by $100 a month or more.

"For people who are on fixed income or for people who are working low-wage jobs, it's going to be difficult to maintain that," he said.

In addition, South Carolina has one of the lowest eviction filing fees in the nation. The state charges landlords $40 to file to evict a tenant.

"It's really not that much trouble to just go down to the magistrate court, fill out the one-page application for ejectment and leave it in the hands of the court," Fessler said.

Fessler also said there's a growing trend of corporate landlords with leases that charge tenants up to $100 or more if the landlord files for an eviction.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition finds 27% of renter households in South Carolina are extremely low income, and there’s a shortage of more than 87,000 units that are affordable to them.

Generally, attorneys with South Carolina Legal Services try to reach settlements with landlords so tenants don't end up with court-ordered eviction on their record, which can make it difficult to find housing or employment in the future.

Fessler said evictions will likely remain high in South Carolina as long as the housing market is squeezed and affordable units remain in short supply.

"If housing supply is going to remain tight, rents are going to continue to increase, and these evictions are probably going to remain with us," Fessler said.

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Nick de la Canal is a reporter for WFAE covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal