Charlotte area landlord groups say eviction court dates should happen faster

Lauren Lindstrom, The Charlotte Observer

Leaders of Charlotte’s landlord, real estate and property manager trade groups are again asking to speed up scheduling eviction cases, saying Mecklenburg court leaders are ignoring statutory requirements to hear cases quickly.

In a letter sent Friday, The Greater Charlotte Apartment Association, Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition and local chapter of the National Association of Residential Property Managers said court officials aren’t complying with state law requiring courts to hold an eviction hearing within seven to 10 days of filing.

The groups implored court officials to put more cases on the docket and “stop the further extension of the moratorium through procedural delay,” in the letter, addressed to Chief District Court Judge Elizabeth Trosch, Clerk of Superior Court Elisa Chinn-Gary and Sheriff Garry McFadden.

Court officials are contending with a significant case backlog and first scheduled cases that were stayed during the moratorium. As of Sept. 20 there were nearly 2,600 new filings scheduled for hearings in October, according to court officials.

When the federal eviction moratorium was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, housing advocates warned of a wave of evictions across the country after millions of renters fell behind on payments.

But dockets in Mecklenburg’s small claims court, where evictions are handled along with other civil disputes involving less than $10,000, are still significantly lighter than pre-pandemic levels.

A review of small claims dockets over a six-day period in late September show just a handful scheduled in each courtroom, sometimes with as few one or two hearings scheduled per room. The most in any courtroom during that period was 15 cases, a departure from before when it was common to see several dozen cases per hour.

Many of the recent cases heard in court date back months, with some originating late last year.

Mecklenburg court officials previously told the Observer that the case backlog was caused by “a deadly pandemic” and the eviction moratorium, and that the oldest cases were being scheduled first. The court has capped hearings per day and limited the number of people allowed in a courtroom for social distancing.

“Rental housing providers have shouldered the burden of providing housing and assisting residents in maintaining housing since the beginning of the pandemic and throughout the moratoria, often with little to no recourse against those that have taken advantage of the moratoria protections,” the letter read.

Friday’s letter echoes a similar request sent to NC Chief Justice Paul Newby in August, urging him to direct Mecklenburg court officials to speed up scheduling.

The court has curtailed activity several times during waves of COVID cases, including outbreaks among court staff.

Chinn-Gary, in an August email to the Observer, said the accusation that the clerk’s office “disregards the rule of law is simply unconscionable.”

Mecklenburg Trial Court Administrator Casey Calloway said in an email late Monday court officials had received the groups’ letter and intend to respond, but offered no further comment.

The letter also said the apartment association is planning a discussion meant “to take proactive steps to address high eviction rates in three identified areas of Charlotte as well as help landlords across Mecklenburg County understand how Mecklenburg County Courts are handling cases.”

The Observer, in partnership with the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, previously reported that a review of six months of evictions during the moratorium showed three ZIP codes — 28212, 28216 and 28262 — accounted for nearly one-third of all cases, despite having just over 13% of the county’s population.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a comment from the Mecklenburg Trial Court Administrator.

Staff writer Michael Gordon contributed to this report.

Read more at The Charlotte Observer.

The Charlotte Journalism Collaborative is supported by the Local Media Project, an initiative launched by the Solutions Journalism Network with support from the Knight Foundation to strengthen and reinvigorate local media ecosystems.