South Carolina’s eviction laws create a power imbalance between tenants and landlords

FLORENCE COUNTY, SC (WBTW) — South Carolina’s low eviction filing fees have created an intense power imbalance between tenants and landlords, housing advocates and organizations say.

“Our eviction process in South Carolina is really cheap,” said Adam Protheroe, trial attorney for the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center. “I can’t say that we are the cheapest in the country. We are quite close.

It costs landlords $40 to file for a tenant’s eviction. These low fees, Protheroe said, mean the process is not being used for what it is intended. Instead of being used to evict someone from a property, it is used as a means of collecting rent, resulting in serial filings against the same tenants.

These court records are public, easily accessible, and permanent, which can limit a tenant’s future housing options, even if they have never been evicted.

South Carolina had the highest eviction rate in the country in 2016, at 19% of renters, according to Marketplace. This figure rose to 25.7% in 2019.

Figures on evictions can be hard to come by because most states don’t track data, according to Eviction Lab, an organization that collects statistics on evictions.

The data Eviction Lab has for South Carolina shows big differences in eviction filing rates across the state. In 2016 – the most recent statistics available – eviction filing rates varied widely by county.

Statewide, there are 112 evictions per day, an eviction court filing rate of 18.7%, and an eviction rate of 8.87%. The poverty rate is 13.49% and the average South Carolinian spends 31.1% of their income on rent.

In Anderson, Lexington, Florence, Berkeley, Horry, Charleston and Richland counties, more than six people are evicted per day on average. Eviction data was not available for eight counties.

Eviction filings were over 20% in Laurens, Berkeley, Greenwood, Richland, Marion, Dorchester, Cherokee and Florence counties. In Florence County, 39.06% of rents are filed for eviction each year – the highest rate in the state.

More than one in 10 tenants have been evicted from their homes in 12 counties. The highest rate was in Cherokee County, where 16.41% of renters were evicted.

However, the areas with the highest poverty rates do not have the highest eviction rates.

The poorest county for which eviction data is available, Marlboro County, has a poverty rate of 24.34% and a rent charge of 31.9%, but ranks roughly in the middle for his expulsion rate and his expulsion rate. The same is true for Williamsburg and Chester counties.

Eviction Lab also found that black tenants were more likely to have an eviction case against them and be evicted.

A handful of buildings are responsible for the bulk of the state’s eviction cases. One resort in Greenville filed 347 eviction filings in court between March 15, 2020 and December 2021. Another in the area filed 284 filings.

Eviction Lab gave South Carolina a 2.3 out of five for its COVID-19 eviction policies, noting that while there were almost no eviction filings during the eviction moratorium temporary in 2020, tenants could still be evicted unless they proved they were unable to pay rent due to financial hardship. And while landlords weren’t able to remove these people from properties, they were still able to charge late fees and were able to raise rent when renewing leases.

Overall, Eviction Lab says South Carolina laws “are well outside the norm when it comes to landlord-tenant relationships.”

According to Protheroe, there is a peak in eviction deposits around the 10th of each month. In 2019, 68 cases were filed in March in Horry County. In 2021 it was 29, and it’s back to 52 this year.

Protheroe said housing advocates are worried about a possible spike when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium ends.

“It really didn’t happen,” he said. “It’s been quite a slow swell it seems, but the deposits may only be part of the story.”

The time a case is filed in court does not always reflect when a tenant is actually evicted. Protheroe said most eviction cases end up being settled, meaning a tenant has moved out or paid rent and is allowed to stay. But with out-of-court settlements, it’s hard to tell what an increase in deposit really means.

Landlords can evict a tenant for three reasons: not paying rent, violating their lease, or if the lease has ended, the landlord hasn’t extended it and the tenant hasn’t moved out.

Landlords are legally required to inform the tenant that they have five days to resolve the issue before filing an eviction request. Most of the cases Protheroe won for tenants when he worked in legal services were due to a landlord not giving proper notice before filing an eviction request.

But tenants who end up paying their rent can still be evicted, he warns, unless the landlord drops the case.

“The problem is, if the tenant is late, at the time the landlord files, legally, it doesn’t matter if the tenant gets caught after, the landlord still has the right to evict,” Protheroe said.

He warns tenants to make sure this case is dismissed, and not to ignore it and assume it was.

Withholding rent for repairs can be tricky.

“That’s pretty much always a bad idea,” he said.

The reason is that it is difficult to have a legal defense on the amount to be withheld. If possible, he recommends talking to a lawyer.

“The eviction cases move fast, they move very fast, and trying to raise the repair issues to prove damages is really difficult,” he said. “Once those wheels start spinning, they’re really hard to slow down.”

If a tenant does not pay rent on time, the landlord must give the tenant five days notice to do so. Notice is not required if a lease has in writing that no written notice will be given if rent is overdue.

Assuming the tenant is fighting eviction, the whole process only takes a few weeks.

If a tenant requests it, a hearing takes place within 10 days of the filing. If the tenant loses their case in court, the court will issue a writ of ejection which gives the tenant five days to move out.

Nowhere else in the justice system do things move so quickly, he said, and so inexpensively, creating an extreme power imbalance between landlords and tenants.

Legislative change at the state level is unlikely.

“[Bills] tend not to have a lot of traction,” Protheroe said. “There’s not a lot of support at the Statehouse for these kinds of reforms.”

The situation is not improving. Information from the Pee Dee Realtor Association shows that despite more homes coming up for sale in the Florence area, the median price of a home has increased by 17% from 2021 to 2022, making that half of the houses for sale cost more than $214,000. . It was $156,000 in February 2019.

Additionally, 2021 data from the SC Housing Needs Assessment shows that 31% of households are considered to be in housing poverty and that a basic two-bedroom apartment is not considered affordable in 40 of the state’s 46 counties.

From 2000 to 2019, median household income increased 51.6% in the state, while median rent increased 80.8%. The median cost of a single-family home rose 89.5% statewide over the same period.

The “housing wage” is $17.30, according to the data, but most South Carolinians earn $13.52 an hour. Of the 30 most common jobs in the state, 20 have an hourly wage below that mark. To afford a one-bedroom apartment, a South Carolina would need to earn $14.83.

There will always be less affordable housing than is needed, according to Chris Winston, director of communications for SC Housing, an organization that provides emergency assistance to prevent homelessness and participates in efforts to increase housing supply. safe, decent and affordable. in the state.

There were 15,000 people who used its programs between April 2020 and April 2021 in Horry County. The SC Stay Plus program, which provided pandemic assistance, has helped more than 20,000 people in the state.

Part of the population is still struggling to pay rent due to the pandemic, Winston said, and for those who were already struggling to make rent, even a small economic setback can have significant impacts that are difficult to find. to recover.

He said builders want a return on their investment, leading to the creation of “luxury” apartments with wooden floors and vaulted ceilings. With the rising costs of lumber and other supplies, it is even more difficult to incentivize developers to create affordable housing.

These projects are often met with resistance from existing residents, who have a “not in my backyard” mindset due to misconceptions, Winston said.

“When people hear ‘affordable housing’ they have a picture that comes to mind of what that’s going to mean, and our position is that’s an inaccurate picture, and we need to better say what those developments are. and who live there,” he said, noting that residents of these projects include single mothers and the elderly.

Traffic is also often cited as a reason for opposing developments. But when areas are well suited to placing affordable housing next to jobs, he said, it doesn’t lead to more congestion.

“We want to build these homes where people will live and work in the same community,” Winston said.

Use the database below to search for eviction numbers by county.

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