At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.

CDC issues temporary moratorium on renter evictions

As a means to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a nationwide order this week to temporarily halt evictions for millions of renters who meet certain criteria. The order went into effect Friday, Sept. 4 and lasts through Dec. 31, 2020.

The order requires that renters meet certain criteria, including:

• Have an income of $198,000 or less for couples filing jointly, or up to $99,000 for individuals.

• Show they have sought government assistance to pay their rent.

• Declare they are unable to pay rent because of COVID-19.

• Affirm they are likely to become homeless if they are evicted.

Nonprofit Pisgah Legal Services is receiving approximately 1,000 phone calls each week, with more than half of those calls related to housing issues. While this news is a welcome step forward for people in our mountains who are facing homelessness during the pandemic, experts say the moratorium will not completely solve the eviction crisis.

Pisgah Legal Services Executive Director Jim Barrett says, “Renters can still be evicted for a variety of other reasons other than lack of payment. And those who do qualify for the moratorium will still be responsible for paying their rent.”

Barrett also worries about what will happen when the moratorium expires.

“When that final bill comes due in the dead of winter it will be impossible for many low-income people to pay.”Barrett continues, “We urge renters to continue to work with their landlords, pay what they can, and contact Pisgah Legal Services to get the legal guidance they need. Free legal aid is more important than ever, as is the need for rental assistance funding. This funding is already available in some mountain communities, and the hope is that more will be available throughout WNC in the near future.” 

In addition to the moratorium, renters should also know these basic rights:

1. A tenant cannot be made to move from a rental home without a court order.  Tenants have a right to appear in court and defend themselves. Any attempt made to remove a tenant by anyone or any means except the Sheriff’s Department is illegal. 

2. In most cases, landlords cannot legally terminate a tenant’s electricity, water, or heat source as a method of forcing them to leave a rental unit. 

3. Do not move out without talking to an attorney. Tenants may have rights and defenses that they do not know about.  There may be financial resources available tenants are unaware of.  Even if a tenant is behind in rent, do not move out without finding out your options. Eviction actions can happen quickly without an attorney, and they can be slowed down to prevent homelessness with the aid of an attorney. 

Pisgah Legal Services, a nonprofit that provides free, civil legal aid in Western North Carolina, continues to assist people with low incomes during COVID-19. Staff and volunteer attorneys are helping clients and taking new applications for assistance with critical needs that include:

• evictions and foreclosures

• domestic violence

• coping with debts and avoiding scams

• unemployment and other government benefits

• and health care.

Applying for Help/Other ResourcesIf you or someone you know needs help, call Pisgah Legal’s main phone lines at 828.253.0406, or 800.489.6144.

Online applications are also being accepted: www.pisgahlegal.org/free-legal-assistance. Pisgah Legal staff and volunteer attorneys continue to work remotely, and will be in touch via phone and/or email. Pisgah Legal’s website (www.pisgahlegal.org) also offers helpful information including resources, and frequently asked questions during COVID-19.

Receive our FREE SMN Xtra newsletter

Go to top