Residents slapped with eviction notices after AP story

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Two mobile home residents in North Carolina were hit with eviction notices Thursday, shortly after complaining to The Associated Press about spikes in their monthly lot rental.

The notices from Florida-based company Time Out Communities were delivered two days after the residents were prominently featured in an AP story on those living in hurricane-ravaged Robeson County.

Time Out said it had begun working on the paperwork for both eviction notices prior to the article's publication. They also said many other eviction notices were filed on the same day.

Both residents told the AP that their rent had doubled or tripled since Time Out bought the mobile home parks they live in. The rent hikes came while the county was still struggling to bounce back from hurricanes Matthew in 2016 and Florence in 2018. Residents and community activists say both hurricanes put a strain on affordable housing resources in the county.

Time Out owns over 20 properties in the low-income county, many of which were bought in the past two years. However, Time Out has said their decision to purchase the properties was not a result of either hurricane and that the rate increases will pay for improvements at the parks.

The eviction notice against Shirley Pittman and James Lesane were both filed with Robeson County shortly before 5 p.m. on July 9, the same day the AP article was published.

Nicole Mueller is a lawyer with the Legal Aid of North Carolina who is representing both clients. She said her first impression is that the timing of the action seems to be suspicious.

"I interpret it as just way too coincidental that they would be doing that," she said. "To me it seems retaliatory that they were giving these clients more time to pay or to figure out other situations ... until they saw this news story."

Both Lesane and Pittman had been paying their old monthly lot rental prices every month and had been getting late payment notices from the company. Pittman had also received a threat of eviction notice in May.

"Despite repeated attempts by management to work out alternative arrangements, Ms. Pittman and Mr. Lesane were served with eviction notices because of non-payment of rent," the company wrote in an emailed statement.

Time Out also said they wanted both residents to stay within their communities and have been in contact with them to try and find a solution since early May.

"We work very hard to accommodate our residents' individual needs and if they are in arrears, will craft payment plans to keep them within their homes," they wrote. "In Mr. Lesane's case, he indicated that he planned to move and in Ms. Pittman's case, she declined to work with us on a payment plan."

Lesane previously told the AP he needed to save up several thousand dollars to pay for his mobile home to be moved from the land he is renting. So far, he said he saved about $800.

Mueller said Time Out was taking advantage of her clients' position and that the evictions were unjust.

"Because Time Out has been accepting their rent for the past two months, they are giving a false sense of security that they can stay there ... when they really should be looking for another place to go — but then again there is nowhere else to go," she said.

She said the only affordable alternative Lesane has been able to find is another mobile home park in Lumberton that is situated in a flood zone.

Pittman and Lesane both have court hearings scheduled for July 24. If either resident loses the case, Mueller said he or she will have 10 days to vacate their property before being forcibly evicted, unless they appeal the decision.