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Sunday October 17th

Executive order, evictions moratorium provide protection for North Carolina tenants

A young boy with a skateboard walks past the Chapel Hill Department of Housing in the Northside neighborhood of Chapel Hill on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020.
Buy Photos A young boy with a skateboard walks past the Chapel Hill Department of Housing in the Northside neighborhood of Chapel Hill on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020.

Following a federal moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that prevents evictions until Dec. 31, Gov. Roy Cooper announced an executive order that provides more protections for tenants in North Carolina. 

The order, which Cooper announced Oct. 28, clarifies which residents are eligible for protections and ensures that those who qualify for assistance under the statewide Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions program are protected as well.

The EHA Program helps Orange County residents with low incomes secure and maintain stable housing. Residents can apply using an  online form or by email for assistance on application fees, security deposits, utility deposits and in extenuating situations, other urgent housing-related costs. 

"Roughly 300,000 to 400,000 households across North Carolina are currently unable to pay rent," Cooper said at the news briefing. "Without today’s action, almost a quarter of a million eviction filings could be submitted by January 2021."

Michael Manset, staff attorney for Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Pittsboro office, said the order is a way to clarify how the state's courts proceed under the CDC declaration, provide additional protections for tenants and add responsibility to landlords. 

He said one of the executive order's biggest impacts is clarifying to what extent a landlord can challenge a CDC declaration from a tenant. He said different courts across the state have been handling this differently. 

He said that in North Carolina, the executive order states that if a landlord receives a CDC declaration from the tenant, they can challenge whether or not the tenant is eligible for the protections. But they have to have a hearing separate from the summary ejectment or eviction hearing. 

Cooper's order states landlords must provide the tenant with a copy of the declaration form in any action for eviction against that tenant, and inform them of their rights under the CDC order. The landlord must also notify the court if the tenant provides the landlord with a copy of the declaration and file it with the court. 

Manset said if a landlord were to fail to take these steps, the landlord could be criminally liable under a level two misdemeanor. 

“I think it actually clears up and provides additional guidance to how North Carolina courts should treat the declaration,” Manset said. 

Sharron Reid, the housing counselor at EmPOWERment Inc., said she thinks the order will help people relax and ensure they have a place to stay as winter approaches and COVID-19 cases rise, even if they can’t work or run out of unemployment benefits. 

“I think it will really, really help them be able to feel confident that they’ll be okay,” Reid said. 

Orange County is also taking measures to provide rent and utility assistance to residents, in addition to statewide protections. 

Emila Sutton, director of Housing and Community Development for Orange County, said that at the beginning of the pandemic, she saw a lot of people who needed assistance because of abrupt job loss. As months went by and some people were able to get back to work, she said they still had reduced hours and couldn’t make rent. 

Orange County has an Emergency Housing Assistance Program and is part of the statewide HOPE program. 

The EHA Program helps Orange County residents with low incomes secure and maintain stable housing. Residents can apply using an online form or by email for assistance on application fees, security deposits, utility deposits and, in extenuating situations, other urgent housing-related costs. 

The HOPE program, continuing until Dec. 31, is administered by the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency and provides rent and utility assistance for up to six months. Sutton said a landlord signs a lease addendum which prohibits the landlord from evicting until 90 days after the last HOPE payment is made. 

She said the EHA program is in need of donations and needs landlords to participate. The county has a landlord incentive program that provides $2,000 for every new 12-month lease signed. 

Sutton said the county was just awarded a program out of the North Carolina Department of Commerce that will provide it about $900,000 to allocate rent and utility assistance past December — but that money won't be able to sustain residents for the long term. 

“We really just don’t know what’s going to happen past Dec. 31,” she said. 

@hayleyrosewall

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com 

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