Evicted residents in Plymouth seek monetary damages

Published 4:00 pm Wednesday, June 12, 2024

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Nine former and current residents of the Pine Forest apartments in Plymouth have filed suit against the property owners and its rental management company. On April 29 of this year, a lawsuit was filed in Washington County District Court by Legal Aid of North Carolina on behalf of the plaintiffs. The defendants in the case are Charlotte-based Pine Forest NC, LLC, the property owners, and GEM Management, LLC, the rental management company.

“We are seeking $160,000 in damages effective through June 15, 2024,” said Legal Aid of North Carolina Attorney, Daniel Worrall. “By law, Legal Aid is prohibited from doing class action lawsuits. So we have done what we call a “mass action” which means taking the cases of all nine plaintiffs and combining them into one lawsuit. The defendants have been given 30 days to file a written response to the charges, indicating whether they agree or disagree. Should the case continue past June 15, there will be additional monetary damages.”

“The defendants failed to perform routine and other maintenance to Plaintiffs’ respective apartments, entitling them to damages for rent abatement,” the lawsuit read. “In addition, Defendants’ failure to maintain the apartments in a fit and habitable condition caused the Plaintiffs’ respective apartments to fall into such disrepair that repairs could be done only if Plaintiffs were displaced. As a result, Pine Forest NC, LLC and GEM Management, LLC have constructively evicted the Plaintiffs, causing them to suffer actual damages, such as the loss of their rental subsidies, moving costs, and incurring increased rents in the private rental market. Plaintiffs seek damages due to Defendants’ actions, which violate N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-42, the parties’ leases, and federal regulations. Because Defendants have engaged in unfair trade practices and refused to settle prior to the filing of this Complaint, Plaintiffs seek treble damages and attorney fees.”

Worrall said they did not demand a jury trial, so if it goes to trial it will be before a judge. He said it would still work like a jury trial in that the nine plaintiffs would be allowed to testify along with any other witnesses that might be called. Because of the amount of discovery anticipated in the case, Worrall said it could take anywhere from six months to a year before it goes to trial. “We are hoping to try and come to some sort of a settlement before that and remain in touch with their attorneys. They were given the opportunity last Fall to settle out of court, but the negotiations ended up not being very fruitful.”

The hardships have been many, and the waiting game continues for answers and resolutions for the six residents the Washington Daily News spoke with in 2023. On April 25, 2023, an estimated 35 residents at the Pine Forest Apartments in Plymouth received a notification letter taped to their front doors indicating there were foundation issues that needed to be repaired to ensure the building was “maintained in a decent, safe and sanitary condition. They were given two options. Either temporarily relocate by May 15, which would assure them the opportunity to move back into their apartments. Or by choosing not to relocate by May 15, their leases would be immediately terminated and they would have to be out of their apartments by June 15. “This is the first time I have dealt with a case involving a mass eviction from a single dwelling, without any assistance at all to the tenants,” said Worrall.

As of June 7, Alan Pittman, director of planning and inspection in Plymouth, said no permits were ever pulled for any of the discussed foundation work at the apartments.

GEM Management, LLC has not responded to multiple emails and phone calls requesting a response to the lawsuit.