Legal Aid See Requests Surge As Eviction Moratorium Shows Mixed Results

Legal Aid See Requests Surge As Eviction Moratorium Shows Mixed Results

11:58am Nov 09, 2020
Protesters display placards while calling for support for tenants and homeowners at risk of eviction during a demonstration. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Back in September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a sweeping nationwide moratorium on evictions due to the impact of COVID-19. It stated that if a tenant meets certain criteria and presents a signed affidavit, they will not be evicted.

Now two months later, some people are still being evicted for reasons of non-payment and the CDC order is sometimes ignored.

Legal Aid is receiving so many inquiries for their services to assist renters in these disputes that they’re calling it a “tsunami” of requests.

WFDD’s Eddie Garcia spoke with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Ed Sharp about the CDC moratorium, and about orders Governor Roy Cooper has put into place to strengthen it.

Interview Highlights

How is the CDC order working so far?

What we've seen is that it's very inconsistent, but it has, in fact, saved thousands and thousands of tenants from being evicted. In our experience, the clerks [of court] have been very reluctant to not issue writs because they feel that legally they don't have good cover for not doing that. But judicial officials like magistrates and district court judges, most of them are recognizing the validity of the federal court order. So it's been helping a lot of people, but very inconsistently.

Do local courts have flexibility?

What we've seen is a very wide divergence of how these things are handled, and some courts are simply ignoring it. And I think they are able to get away with that pretty easily because this was a federal law and they're used to enforcing state law. I really think that the governor's order is very, very significant when it comes to this because what he has done is made the CDC order now a matter of state law that can be enforced by state officials. To violate his order is now a state crime. It's a misdemeanor. Now, violating the CDC order was a federal crime, but I don't think anybody was too scared of that.

What has Gov. Roy Cooper's Executive Order No. 171 changed?

What the governor's order does is, first of all, requires landlords to give a blank declaration form to anybody they're evicting. They have to file an affidavit saying that they have done that. And then once the tenant gets the blank declaration — presumably they read it — and if it applies to them, they can sign it and then they give it to the landlord. At that point, the landlord is required to bring it to the court's attention. So they have to admit to the magistrate that they've gotten it and they have to file it with the clerk.

Will evictions go away in some places?

Well no, evictions have not gone away anywhere. But what we have seen in some counties is that the magistrates are taking the CDC declarations very seriously. 

But there have been some counties — and I'm not sure I want to name names — but there have been some counties who simply said, "well that doesn't apply to us," which is legally false. But there's not a huge amount we can do about it.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This transcript was lightly edited for clarity.

For the most up-to-date information on coronavirus in North Carolina, visit our Live Updates blog here. WFDD wants to hear your stories — connect with us and let us know what you’re experiencing.

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