Brandi King stands in front of her door at Live Gate City Apartments. (photo by Jordan Green)
Ten days before state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley’s order suspending court business was to expire, Brandi King and her husband, Anthony, received a letter from their landlord notifying them that their $614 monthly rent at Live Gate City Apartments in Greensboro was late.
The form letter from DLP Real Estate Management acknowledged “the hardship that COVID-19 and the stay-at-home orders are putting on our residents, families and friends,” but went on say the rent was “past due and should be paid at once.”
The letter recognized that “many of our residents are suffering from job losses, furloughs, and reduced hours,” while suggesting they turn to help from the federal government through the CARES Act.
Brandi King said the community manager also handed her a “Promise to Pay” document that added the past rent due for April with next month’s rent for a total of $1,228 and included a written warning that if they failed to make the payment “the landlord may immediately pursue any and all legal remedies and rights available in the lease,” while limiting the repayment period to 60 days.
Underscoring the threat, Brandi King said the community manager told her: “If you don’t pay in 10 days, we will take action to evict you.”
Initially, a March 19 order issued by Chief Justice Beasley suspending “pleadings, motions, notices and other documents” in “civil actions, criminal actions, estates and special proceedings,” which includes eviction proceedings, was set to expire on Friday, April 17. But a new order, issued on Monday, extends the suspension of courts through June 1, citing the continuation of “catastrophic conditions resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak” and speculating that the “apex of the outbreak” may last into late April.
The Guilford County Sheriff’s Office has not made a final determination on whether Beasley’s order means the agency should continue a moratorium on evictions. But Sheriff’s Attorney Jim Secor noted in an interview with Triad City Beat that the sheriff’s office interpreted the previous order to mean evictions should be halted, and the language in the new order is identical.
He also cited a March 31 executive order by Gov. Roy Cooper that, while not binding, states that the governor and Attorney General Josh Stein “strongly encourage sheriffs to delay, until regular court operations resume, the execution of any writs of possession for real property that have already been issued, consistent with the spirt of the order and in support of public health and public safety.”
Secor said the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office will likely issue a formal decision on Wednesday morning.
The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office has already indicated that it will refrain from carrying out evictions while the courts remain closed.
Christina Howell, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, said in an email to TCB: “The writs of possession that we are currently holding will continue to be held until June 1.”
The temporary halt likely portends a bottleneck of evictions once the courts eventually reopen as the pandemic abates. As of Tuesday, Secor said, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office is sitting on 149 un-served writs of possession.
Brandi King said the threat of eviction has compounded a cascade of other stressors created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the pandemic, Anthony lost his job at Viva Chicken Peruvian Rotisserie Joint, and his $92 weekly unemployment income doesn’t come close to covering rent. Anthony also recently came home from the hospital, Brandi said. They have two children, ages 6 and 3, and Brandi is two months pregnant.
“I don’t know why they’re nagging me about rent,” Brandi said. “I have real-life problems. My husband just got out of the hospital. I have these kids out of school.”
The family received a donated laptop for their 6-year-old, but they don’t have an internet connection at their apartment. And they’re not in a position to take advantage of any of 16 internet hotspots set up in school parking lots for children to log on to the Canvas online learning platform because they don’t have a running vehicle to get there.
“You’ll know when I have the money when that car moves,” Brandi said she told the community manager at her apartment complex.
Before the pandemic hit, things were beginning to look up for the Kings.
“We came from a homeless program,” Brandi said. “We were staying in hotel with bedbugs. Who would have known that COVID-19 would come along?”
The community manager at Live Gate City Apartments declined to comment on the pressure exerted on the Kings to make their rent payment, instead referring the inquiry to DLP Real Estate Management’s corporate office. An unidentified company representative at a Pennsylvania phone number told TCB: “We’re not doing evictions.” But she said she would ask a regional manager to look into the matter.
DLP Real Estate Management owns and operates more than 10,000 apartments up and down the East Coast and across the Midwest through its property management arm, according to its website. A Forbes profile of DLP Real Estate calls founder Don Wenner “a leader in the single and multi-family real estate sectors of brokerage, investment management, asset management, property management, construction and private lending.” The profile goes on to say that Wenner “has closed more than 12,000 real estate transactions totaling more than $1.6 billion.”
While appealing to property owners to “work with tenants to the best of their abilities to implement payment plans and avoid evictions,” Gov. Cooper’s March 31 order also includes a nudge to landlords to seek relief upstream.
The order says Cooper and Attorney General Stein also “strongly encourage all lenders to work with property owners to the best of their abilities to provide loan payment flexibility that enable property owners to avoid eviction of tenants, in light of the state of emergency in North Carolina.”
Sayaka Matsuoka contributed reporting for this story.