Photo: Forsyth county sheriff Bobby Kimbrough speaks during a press conference on March 17. (screenshot)
Updated (3/18): On Wednesday afternoon, President Trump directed the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to suspend evictions and foreclosures through April. However, the Hill reports that “Trump did not specify who would be covered by HUD’s action, though it likely applies only to homeowners with mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration, a HUD agency that backs affordable home loans issued through private firms.”
While new eviction and foreclosure proceedings have been halted by a state court order, those that were already filed are still in motion, causing alarm with advocacy groups and sheriffs’ departments alike.
The sheriff’s offices in Guilford and Forsyth counties say they will carry out any foreclosure and eviction writs that were issued prior to an order issued on Sunday by North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley to suspend foreclosures and evictions.
“We have not received any requests to hold off on those,” Jim Secor, the attorney for the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, said on Monday. “Because those are a court order, we would need the court to suspend those judgments or we would need to get a request from the tenant.”
Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough echoed Secor’s response. Kimbrough said during a Tuesday-morning press conference that his agency is legally obligated to fulfill writs signed by judges before Sunday.
“It’s the law,” Kimbrough said. “If I don’t follow the law, I put myself in harm’s way and I can’t do that in good conscience. I may disagree with that decision. If it was Bobby’s world, I would not serve that.”
Kimbrough said he is currently waiting to see if Lisa Menefee, the chief district judge in Forsyth County, will sign an order to suspend the 76 eviction notices that the sheriff’s office has received that await execution. If Menefee signs an order, Kimbrough said, then those eviction orders will be temporarily suspended. Then the order goes to Chief Justice Beasley, who will review it and sign it and determine for how long the orders will be suspended.
If Menefee doesn’t sign an order, Kimbrough said four families could face eviction today.
In an email on Tuesday, Secor with the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office said his agency has 53 writs of possession that have to be executed by their office. Secor also said in an email that the sheriff’s office is in conversation with Vincent but that “it is unclear to [them] whether a chief district court judge has the legal authority to suspend the service of those writs. That will likely involve decision-making at a higher judicial level in Raleigh.”
Chief District Court Judge Lisa Menefee confirmed in a phone interview with Triad City Beat on Tuesday after Sheriff Kimbrough’s press conference that her office is currently working on an order. Details on what happens after the order is reviewed and signed are still unclear, Menefee said.
On Wednesday morning, Forsyth County chief district court judge Lisa Menefee let TCB know that her office was working on an order to suspend evictions that have already been filed with the sheriff’s department but that the Forsyth county attorney’s office is unwilling to participate as plaintiffs for preliminary injunctions or restraining orders against the evictions. Gordon Watkins, the Forsyth county attorney, said in a phone call to TCB that his office doesn’t have authority over Menefee and that he doesn’t think Menefee has the authority to pass such an order.
“I have no authority over Judge Menefee,” Watkins said. “The only one who would have the authority would be the appellate courts or perhaps the judge that issued the order…I have not received any requests from her. I don’t have that authority to make that request to her. I’m not blocking anything…There’s no provision in the law to ignore these eviction orders. I don’t believe that she has authority to do that.”
Updated (3/18): On Wednesday afternoon,President Trump directed the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to suspend evictions and foreclosures through April. However, the Hill reports that “Trump did not specify who would be covered by HUD’s action, though it likely applies only to homeowners with mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration, a HUD agency that backs affordable home loans issued through private firms.” The same article also stated that “the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) also announced Wednesday that it would suspend foreclosures and evictions for homeowners with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.”
A call with Secor, the attorney for the Guilford County sheriff’s office said that he’s not sure how many of the 53 orders they are facing would be halted under the new federal order.
“More than likely the 53 writs of possession will be private landlords and private tenants,” Secor said. “We don’t know how many are HUD landlord/tenant relationships.”
In an email on Wednesday, Albright with the Forsyth county sheriff’s department said he believes the new federal order only applies mostly to “Section 8 HUD matters, renters, that is.”
Some of the confusion comes from whether the case has already been heard in court and whether a judgment has been made. Once a judgment is made, the county clerk of court issues a writ, or an order, which is sent to the sheriff’s office, that gives them the authority to evict or foreclose on a tenant or property. Chief Justice Beasley’s announcement on March 13 halts only proceedings in which judgments have not yet been made.
A spokesperson within the Guilford County clerk of court’s office said that while foreclosure proceedings had been stalled, writs of possessions, which give the county sheriff the authority to remove tenants from rental properties, are still being filed with the sheriff’s department after judgments.
Calls to Guilford County Chief District Court Judge Teresa Vincent went unreturned in time for this story.
Over the weekend, a number of community organizations mobilized to advocate for the suspension of evictions and foreclosures during the COVID-19 epidemic.
“With the spread of COVID-19, we must remember that our community’s health is interconnected,” the Homeless Union of Greensboro said in a press release on Monday. “It is critical to ensure adequate medical care and hygiene for every person, especially those who are unhoused. Many houseless people are immunocompromised or disabled due to the difficulties of living without shelter. Many are elders. We should resist any further stigmatization of those living in encampments or shelters and demand they are provided the resources to prevent infection and further spread of the virus. We demand that public officials work to ensure the health of both our unhoused and housed communities.”
The group is demanding a moratorium on evictions and homeless camp sweeps in addition to other requests.
Housing Justice Now, a housing-rights advocacy group based in Winston-Salem, raised similar concerns.
“To prevent this pandemic from worsening our existing housing crisis and to prevent the housing crisis from worsening this pandemic, Housing Justice Now calls for an immediate moratorium on evictions and mortgage foreclosures,” the group said in a press release on Monday.
The organization also called for the city to come up with a “plan for delivering housing and medical treatment for homeless people.”
Dan Rose, a member of Housing Justice Now, said on Monday that he wants to see landlords waive rent and banks waive mortgage payments during the epidemic. He also said he wants to see the city invest money from its general fund to house the homeless in the city.
“California was able to procure housing for 100,000 homeless in their state,” Rose said. “We need people with political will to step up and address the housing situation…. It shouldn’t take the Coronavirus to highlight the need for housing for all.”