ORANGE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- A different kind of crisis has been unfolding through the pandemic: local landlords forcing residents out of their homes despite the state's ban on evictions because of COVID-19.
"I'm stressed to the max. Now, we're trying to find a place to live," Barbara in Orange County told ABC11. As North Carolina was weathering the pandemic under a stay-at-home order, Barbara and her husband were being ordered out of their home.
"On April 15, a deputy knocked on my door and told us we were trespassing," said Barbara.
She is now living day-to-day in a tiny Airbnb; so small, the shower is inside the kitchen.
But, back in April as her husband's house painting income dried up with the rest of the economy, she says she and the landlord had agreed to them paying rent through odd jobs around the property. Then the agreement suddenly changed.
"(The landlord) says 'No, I want the rent and then I'll give (the money) back to you.' I'm like 'What's the difference?' Well she didn't like that idea. That's when she started with the intimidation," Barbara said. "And (the landlord's) daughter came one day and started screaming at me, telling me she wants my lawyer's name. So on May 15 we decided to leave because I didn't want to start anything."
The Orange County Housing Authority connected Barbara with Jaime Paulen.
The Hillsborough-based attorney said the pandemic has triggered a flood of clients like Barbara -- rental residents, often low-income and unaware of their renters' rights - like that state law bars any eviction without a hearing in court.
Governor Roy Cooper's COVID-relief plan put a moratorium on eviction hearings until June 20.
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"I actually did tell (Barbara) that she did not have to leave," Paulen said. "I understand I'm the attorney and not the one living in those circumstances. I can only tell a client what the law is. And the law says your landlord can not do that. It's unlawful."
Paulen believes more and more landlords are feeling the pinch from lost rental income during the pandemic and are now taking the law into their own hands. Another client's landlord drilled out the deadbolt of their front door to force them out.
COVID-19 evictions: Tips for renters, homeowners worried about making payments
Now, Paulen is predicting another crisis as the governor's executive order reaches its expiration -- a new tide of evictions that'll make the pandemic worse.
"Those people are going to have to go someplace. Either they go on the street or they find someone to live with. And people are gonna be living in close proximity to each other," Paulen said.
Barbara added with a smile from behind her COVID face mask, "If I don't laugh, I'll cry. So you have to look at the bright side of things otherwise you'll never get through it."
Paulen is now pushing renters to contact local lawmakers to push for statewide rent relief and/or an extension of the eviction moratorium.
- No, your landlord can not evict you for non-payment until June 20, the day eviction hearings are scheduled to resume
- The only way your landlord can evict you is by taking you to court. Letters, threats, lockouts are not legally binding
- Yes, you do still have to pay the back rent. But, the new rules give you six months to do it