In communities across the country, the rising cost of rent combined with stagnant wages has led to a growing eviction crisis. South Carolina is no exception.
According to a report earlier this year from S.C. Housing, the state’s housing finance and development agency, there were 151,000 evictions filed in 2019. That’s one eviction for every four renters in the state.
With a federal ban on evictions set to expire at the end of the month, thousands of renters could be at risk in the coming weeks.
Whether you’re late on rent or you’ve already received an eviction notice, here are several steps you can take that might help you keep your housing, or at least give you more time to figure things out.
When fighting an eviction, time is of the essence. If possible, you should begin taking steps to resolve the situation before you miss a rent payment.
“The earlier you reach out to your landlord if you know you’re going to be late, the better your chances are of working something out,” said Adam Protheroe, a litigation attorney for S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center.
Though there are always exceptions, many landlords are willing to give more leeway to tenants who are honest and upfront about their financial situation.
Apply for help
As the end of the month approaches, start reaching out to organizations that offer rent and utility assistance. Again, the sooner you do this, the more likely you are to get help in time.
Right now there is additional assistance available for renters impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents of Anderson, Berkeley, Charleston, Greenville, Horry, Richland and Spartanburg counties should apply through their respective counties. All other residents can apply for help through the statewide program administered by S.C. Housing.
There are several private groups and nonprofits that offer small grants as well. The State put together a list of programs in the Columbia area, which you can find here.
Columbia residents who need help finding and applying for assistance can sign up for the local NAACP’s Housing Navigator program by calling (803) 256-8771 ext. 2 or sending an email to columbiaNAACPhousingnavigators@gmail.com. The program will match you up with a caseworker who can determine which forms of aid you qualify for and walk you through the application process.
Even if you are unable to receive assitance before you get evicted, many of these programs may be able to help you pay for emergency housing at a hotel, moving costs, a security deposit at a new apartment and more.
Find a lawyer
It’s best to start looking for a lawyer after you’ve fallen behind on rent but before you receive a formal eviction notice. In many cases, a lawyer can help negotiate a payment plan between you and your landlord before the situation gets taken to court.
Even if the case does make it to the courts, it’s helpful to have someone who is versed in the law on your side.
“They can help you ask the judge for more time or, depending on the circumstances, even get the judge to deny the eviction,” Protheroe said.
If you cannot afford a lawyer, there are several organizations in the state that may be able to help you find one for free or at a reduced cost. First is South Carolina Legal Services. You can access their intake website here or call them at 1-888-346-5592. The South Carolina Bar Association also has a pro bono program. The intake hotline for that service is 1-800-395-3425.
Come to court...
If you’re unable to secure a lawyer, don’t panic. You have a better chance of fighting an eviction if you come to court and represent yourself than if you choose not to show up at all.
Plus, the magistrate’s courts, where eviction proceedings take place, “are kind of designed for people without attorneys,” Protheroe said. “There’s a lot of wiggle room in there for folks to present the case as best they can.”
...And come prepared
Leading up to your trial, you will receive paperwork from the court that may include instructions on the basic rules for eviction cases. “Look at those instructions very carefully because they can include some helpful tips,” Protheroe said.
If you have any evidence that you believe may help your case, including text messages, phone records and other documents, make sure you bring copies for the judge to review.
You may also want to read over the brochure S.C. Appleseed put together on the eviction process. It outlines the rules your landlord must follow in order to evict you and includes common reasons why an eviction case may be thrown out.
For example, if a landlord violates your lease or fails to give you proper notice before filing for eviction, you may be able to get the eviction overturned.