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Tenants still protected as NC eviction moratorium nears end

RALEIGH (AP) — Six North Carolina Republican officials voted on Tuesday to end statewide eviction protections for renters starting Thursday, rejecting Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s request to extend the state’s eviction moratorium by one month.

Cooper’s administration warns the move by Republicans is likely to inject further chaos and confusion for landlords and tenants. Critics note North Carolina’s policies will cease to align with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recently extended its national eviction moratorium through July 31.

Regardless, eligible North Carolina renters will be able to remain in their homes through the end of July.

“The governor doesn’t have to do anything for the CDC order to continue applying to North Carolinians,” said Sean Driscoll, a spokesperson for Legal Aid of North Carolina. “There will not be mass evictions until Aug. 1 because the CDC order will still be in place and apply.”

The nonprofit law firm assists low-income renters facing the threat of eviction.

Tuesday’s decision from the North Carolina Council of State, which was split along party lines, is likely to increase the number of evictions, particularly for tenants with less income, less understanding of how to file for federal evictions protections and a lack of awareness of state and local rental relief programs.

Starting Thursday, landlords will no longer be required to give tenants they are seeking to evict a copy of a form from the CDC’s website informing them of their right not to be evicted solely because of nonpayment of rent. North Carolinians can still be evicted for reasons unrelated to nonpayment of rent, such as property destruction.

North Carolina’s eviction protections are set to expire on Wednesday. For months, they have strengthened the CDC moratorium by requiring landlords to give the CDC form to the tenants they are seeking to evict.
It will also soon be easier for property owners to evict people who may still be navigating through the Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions Program (HOPE) process. The program helps residents in 88 smaller counties in the state pay their rent or utility bills. Twelve larger counties manage similar assistance programs. Republicans and Democrats alike want more people to take advantage of the $1.3 billion in rent and utility payment assistance that remains largely unused.

“It’s disappointing to see Council of State members revoke eviction protections for people still struggling to stay in their homes,” Cooper said in a statement. “Many North Carolinians still need help and we will work to make sure landlords abide by the CDC evictions moratorium and that tenants can access rent and utility assistance from counties and the state HOPE program.”

Many Republicans and landlord advocacy groups believe the moratorium has been on the books for too long. They argue the original intent of the eviction moratorium was to limit the spread of COVID-19. With vaccines now widely available, they find the moratorium unnecessary.

State Treasurer Dale Folwell supported Cooper’s original order in May 2020 to halt evictions but has since opposed efforts to extend the statewide moratorium. He sees a larger problem with housing supply and affordability fueled by lower vacancy rates.
“This policy was originally an act of COVID and it became an act of the state, and I think it was hampering and preventing people from being able to rent,” Folwell said in an interview.

He noted other states have ended their eviction moratoriums. He called Tuesday’s vote to end the state moratorium directive “one step towards getting back to normalcy.”

The North Carolina Association of Realtors had urged Cooper to let the statewide moratorium order expire and was pleased Republican members of the Council of State moved to end it.

“It is time to allow housing providers to participate in the economic recovery that has been afforded to so many other struggling industries,” the group said in a statement.

North Carolinians facing the threat of eviction and unsure of whether they can remain in their homes through July 31 can call 800-569-4287 to seek housing counseling. To qualify for federal eviction protections, tenants must have made less than $99,000 in 2020 or expect to earn less than that amount this year. The income threshold for those who file their taxes jointly is $198,000. Tenants can also qualify to remain in their homes if they’ve received a stimulus check or not been required to report income to the Internal Revenue Service.

Additionally, those seeking eviction protection must verify they cannot pay their full rent or make a full housing payment because their household income has gone down substantially, they’ve been laid off from work, their work hours or wages have been cut or they have extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses.