Mount Airy’s codes enforcement officer is seeking to make both renters and landlords in the city aware of a new order by Gov. Roy Cooper relating to evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cooper announced the executive order at the end of last week aimed at preventing the displacement of people unable to pay their rent due to the economic impact of the coronavirus. It has left thousands of families in North Carolina struggling to stay in their homes.
This could have a particular bearing on Mount Airy, which appears to possess a disproportionate number of tenant properties, according to figures provided this week by Chuck Morris, whose job as codes officer includes housing-relating matters.
Based on the “best information” he has available, Morris says there are 4,564 conventional homes and apartments in Mount Airy and of those, 48.9% are rental properties. That amounts to slightly more than 2,200 units, he added.
The codes officer also referenced another source, City-Data.com, showing that 1,972 housing units are occupied by renters.
“That number is a little surprising to me, but it seems to be consistent” with the research he has undertaken, Morris mentioned.
Such a ratio further is suggested by U.S. Census Bureau Quick Facts, which contains a wealth of demographic information from communities nationwide and shows an owner-occupied housing unit rate of 53% in Mount Airy based on statistics from 2014-18.
In comparison, the owner-occupied level for Surry County for that period is 72.2%, higher than the U.S. as a whole, 63.8%.
A Sept. 25 report from the National Council of State Housing Agencies revealed an estimated 300,000 to 410,000 renter households in North Carolina unable to pay rent and at risk of eviction, which is cited in the governor’s order. The estimated number of eviction filings reaching courts around the state was projected to be 240,000 by January.
Against the backdrop of so many renters in town, Morris is trying to get the word out to affected parties about the implications of the governor’s executive order. This conforms to a mandate that the document be distributed to the news media and other organizations in order to make its provisions known to the general public.
Executive Order 171 went into effect on Oct. 30 and won’t expire until Dec. 31, unless repealed, replaced or rescinded by another applicable order, its wording states.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had issued an order earlier this year temporarily halting certain evictions, to run from Sept. 4 through Dec. 31.
Cooper says some renters are able to seek protection under the CDC moratorium, but there is much confusion among landlords, tenants and courts which reportedly has led to inconsistent enforcement and unwarranted evictions in some areas of North Carolina. That prompted his order last week.
Among the key provisions in the seven-page document issued by Cooper — which reflects many elements of the CDC moratorium — landlords must make residential tenants aware of their rights regarding eviction actions launched after the imposition of Executive Order 171.
This includes allowing residents the option of filling out a declaration form before starting any eviction action, which the earlier CDC measure did not require.
Through that CDC declaration form, to be completed under penalty of perjury and provided to landlords, tenants must stipulate that they have used their best efforts to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing.
The protections from eviction apply to residential tenants who’ve applied for a state HOPE program and been notified that they have met the eligibility criteria for participation in it, even if they would not qualify for protection from eviction under the CDC order.
HOPE (an acronym for the Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions program) is designed to provide financial relief to the neediest of North Carolina families. Launched on Oct. 15, the program targets residential tenants with household incomes at or below 80% of the median income in their area, who occupy a rental property as their primary residence and are behind on rent or utility bills when they apply for monetary assistance.
More than $117 million was set aside for the HOPE program, supplied through Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding.
Tenants also must declare that they have done their best to make timely partial payments as close to the full payment as the tenant’s circumstances permit and that their household is below income threshold levels.
A landlord who has been provided with a tenant’s declaration is to immediately notify the court that it has been received and submit a copy of the declaration to the court within five days of this.
Even with the filing of a declaration, both the state and federal orders do not block evictions for reasons other than nonpayment of rent, interest, late fees or penalties.
Those include criminal activity, threatening the health or safety of other tenants or violating building codes or additional ordinances. There is a provision for a court hearing to be held during eviction proceedings to determine if that action should proceed.
The governor’s order takes into account that residents’ ability to stay in their homes helps prevent the spread of the virus, as opposed to becoming homeless and seeking refuge in a shelter where a concentrated population would promote COVID-19 proliferation.