Low-income Garner residents defiant as new owners stay mum

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Residents say they won't succumb to scare tactics by the new owners.

There's a fine line between homelessness and hope, and dozens of residents of a Garner apartment complex are all in for the latter.

Facing the threat of eviction, tenants at Forest Hills Apartments in Garner ignored a letter from the property's new owner, Eller Capital Partners, which expected all residents to leave April 30.

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The letter, posted last week, was in direct contradiction with a deal reached with Wake County which gives residents until June 15 to find another home where public assistance would be honored.

"I'm not easily intimidated by these scare tactics," resident Zelda Smith asserted to the ABC11 I-team. "(Eller Capital CEO Daniel Eller) can't throw me out. He can't padlock me out."

She and her neighbors had feared the worst after being notified in March that their public assistance would no longer be honored starting the first of April.

RELATED: GARNER EVICTION NOTICES CALLED 'AN ATTACK ON THE POOR'

Eller Capital Partners, a Chapel Hill-based developer, bought the Forest Hills complex in February and announced plans to renovate the property and raise rent prices to "market rates."

"A lot of these people are elderly and sick," Smith added. "I'm on disability. Where am I supposed to go?"

Despite several calls and emails, Eller Capital executives have refused interview requests with ABC11, so on Monday the I-Team visited its Chapel Hill office. We waited for hours - and executives managed to evade our crew.

Dave Layfield, CEO of Affordable Housing Online, said "It would appear this displacement is unlawful." Layfield profiled Forest Hills and wrote this FAQ on the rights and benefits tenants have.

"I strongly encourage existing tenants not move until they consult with HUD about their rights," Layfield said. "Very often, new owners of Project-Based Section 8 properties are unaware of the regulations and protections afforded their tenants."

RESOURCES:
- Basic Property Information: corporate registration
- Registered agent: Daniel Eller and his NC entities
- Eller Capital Partners
- Affordable housing info for Wake County
- Raleigh Housing Authority and Section 8

"It could be completely innocent," Layfield said. "Sometimes, purchasers just ignore the law in an attempt to get higher-rent-paying tenants into their new investment. It could be this is their first experience with Project-Based Section 8 and are unfamiliar with the Uniform Relocation Act requirements associated with the program."

RELATED: GARNER RESIDENTS FACE SEVERE RENT HIKE, EVICTION

Layfield said that under current law, tenants must receive notice that the owner is not renewing a subsidy contract with the government one year prior to the contract expiration.

"If tenants did not receive such a notice," he said, "my understanding is the owner must continue charging the tenant only the amount they paid under the HAP contract until proper notice has been sent," and the one-year waiting period has expired.

"42 U.S.C. Section 1437 (8)(a) established the notice requirement," Layfield offered. "(8)(b) of the same paragraph establishes that if the required notice is not sent, the owner 'may not evict the tenants or increase the tenant's rent payment until such time as the owner has provided the notice and one year has elapsed.' So, if the previous owner did not send the proper notice at least one year ago, the lease termination letter ... is not in compliance with the statute."

Layfield encouraged tenants to see whether they're eligible for Tenant Protection Vouchers, which he says "effectively gives them a portable housing voucher that they can use at their current property to pay the increased rent or take to another property."

Sonia Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Raleigh Housing Authority, says landlords across the city and county can help alleviate the stress by choosing to accept the vouchers and Section 8 subsidies.

For more information, visit rhaonline.com

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wake county newshousingI-TeamGarner
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