Sheriffs’ offices for both Guilford and Forsyth Counties have stated that they will suspend all foreclosure and eviction orders until April 17.
A new order by North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley on Thursday, gives state sheriffs’ offices the authority to “stand down” and put a halt to all pending writs of possession and evictions until April 17.
The order, which was posted on the state court’s website on Thursday afternoon, states that “all pleadings, motions, notices, and other documents and papers that were or are due to be filed in any county of this state on or after 16 March 2020 and before the close of business on 17 April 2020 in civil actions, criminal actions, estates, and special proceedings shall be deemed to be timely filed if they are filed before the close of business on 17 April 2020.
“I further order that all other acts that were or are due to be done in any county of this state on or after 16 March 2020 and before the close of business on 17 April 2020 in civil actions, criminal actions, estates, and special proceedings shall be deemed to be timely done if they are done before the close of business on 17 April 2020,” writes Beasley.
Reached via a phone call on Thursday, Jim Secor, the attorney for the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, said that their county will halt all orders until April 17.
“This order gave us the discretion,” Secor said. “It doesn’t say we have to, but we are going to take that discretion.”
Secor said that some of the 53 pending eviction orders were already carried out earlier during the day on Thursday but the rest of them will be on hold until April 17. He did not state how many orders were left. Secor also stated that after April 17, unless the courts order a further extension for the orders, that the sheriff’s office will have to begin executing the writs of possession again.
“We had 17 of the 53 in the pipeline to be served next week,” Secor said. “But for now, everyone is going to get a breather until the 17th.”
Christina Howell, a spokesperson for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, stated that their office too, will halt all writs of possession.
“We are not serving any more writs of possession effective immediately,” Howell wrote in a text to Triad City Beat.
Dan Rose, a member of Housing Justice Now in Winston-Salem, expressed his relief at the declarations by the sheriffs’ offices.
“There were 30 tenants slated to be locked out tomorrow [in Winston-Salem], 19 on Monday and 3 on Tuesday, all have been canceled,” Rose said in a statement to TCB. “We should never see numbers like this, let alone in the midst of an economic and health crisis. We now need to focus on housing the already unhoused and providing economic aid…to workers impacted by these crises…For the community, fewer people being displaced from their homes means less immediate strain on our social and health services and less risk of community spread of COVID-19. We are flattening the curve.”
It is unclear what actions can be taken after the April 17 deadline to keep eviction orders from being executed by the sheriffs’ offices, which are duty-bound to fulfill any writs filed by the courts. Earlier this week, there was some confusion between local and state judicial offices on who has the authority to pass an order for an indefinite moratorium on evictions.
Lisa Menefee, the chief district court judge of Forsyth County, stated that her office was working on such an order on Tuesday, but then said that the Forsyth county attorney’s office was unwilling to participate as plaintiffs for preliminary injunctions or restraining orders against the evictions. Gordon Watkins, the county attorney, said that he didn’t think Menfee had the authority to draft such an order.
“The only one who would have the authority would be the appellate courts or perhaps the judge that issued the order, Watkins said. “There’s no provision in the law to ignore these eviction orders. I don’t believe that she has authority to do that.”
Triad City Beat will continue to update this story.