Unlawful Eviction Action

In May, our client was served with a 30-day notice to terminate her lease. Upon review of the client’s documents, she had a lease through September, and she did not wish to terminate her lease early. She had not received any notices of any lease violations, but was aware that a particular neighbor was making frivolous complaints about her to the police and to the property manager. I called the property manager and informed him they had no right to terminate the lease early, and my client wanted to stay through the term of her lease. He did not appreciate being told he could not do what he wanted to do, and eventually hung up.

Because the phone call did not go well, I decided to send the property manager a fax to summarize our phone conversation. In that letter, I informed him that if he sought to evict my client, I would ask for attorney’s fees and attach the letter as “Exhibit A.”

Fast forward a month. I received a call from our client – she had been served with an eviction action. We requested a hearing and prepared our defenses.

At the hearing, on cross-examination, I walked the property manager through the law and he ultimately agreed that the eviction was unlawful. He also acknowledged receiving my letter about attorney’s fees. The judge ruled in our favor, dismissing the eviction, and awarded us attorney’s fees in light of the property manager being put on notice that what he was doing was unlawful.

South Carolina Legal Services is a statewide law firm that provides civil legal services to protect the rights and represent the interests of low-income South Carolinians. To apply for free legal help, call 1-888-346-5593 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.

Help With Mortgage and Rent Payments

If you are a homeowner who has lost income directly or indirectly related to the coronavirus pandemic, you might be eligible for a forbearance.  A forbearance is a program where the mortgage company delays, or forbears collecting monthly mortgage payments.  Under federal law, if you have an FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac mortgage, you are covered.  You can contact your mortgage servicer to request a mortgage payment forbearance. If you do not have one of these mortgages, you can ask your servicer if it has a coronavirus program to help homeowners who cannot pay the mortgage due to the pandemic.

If you are a renter who has lost income directly or indirectly related to the coronavirus pandemic, you might have protections under federal law. If you receive a federal subsidy to help you pay rent, if you live in a tax credit or rural development property, or if your landlord’s mortgage is backed by the federal government, you may have protection against being evicted for not paying rent.  However, you should pay rent if you can.  Rent is not being forgiven due to the pandemic. 

If you cannot pay your rent, call your local United Way (call 211) or your local Human Affairs Commission to see if there is housing or utility assistance in your area.  Additionally, here is a list of agencies that may be able to help with your rent payment. Finally, if you are behind on your rent payment, the COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program offers emergency rental assistance to South Carolinians facing financial hardships as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Determining whether the property you are renting is covered by federal law may be difficult.  This is especially true for figuring out if your landlord’s mortgage is backed by the federal government.  If you are uncertain, South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. We provide free legal help to low-income individuals. To see if you qualify for our services, call   1-888-346-5592 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.

5 Simple Facts About the Fair Housing Act

1. History

The Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) was enacted during the Civil Rights Movement following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 5, 1968. This is why April has been designated as the month when we remember the FHA. It is a federal law, intended to limit discriminatory practices in the sale and rental of housing and ensure equal access to homeownership, regardless of class.

The states have adopted similar acts. In 1989, South Carolina adopted the Fair Housing Law (S.C. Code §§ 31-21-10, et. seq), and it largely parrots the language of the FHA.

The FHA covers most housing, however, some groups may be exempt, such as, Single-family homes that are rented or sold without using a broker; Owner-occupied homes with no more than four units; Members-only private clubs or organizations.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), examples of discriminatory practices include: imposing different prices for the sale or rental of a dwelling; delaying or failing to perform maintenance or repairs for certain renters; or limiting privileges, services, or facilities of a dwelling because of certain characteristics a person might have. People who share a characteristic covered by the FHA are members of what are called “protected classes.”

2. Protected classes

The FHA promotes our national policy that discrimination in housing based on certain characteristics is abhorrent to a civilized society. Thus, the Act protects members of seven classes – race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status.

In its original form, The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited discrimination in housing based only on race, religion, national origin or sex.

In 1988, Congress passed Amendments to the Act which expanded the law to prohibit discrimination based on disability or on family status.

We can get a better understanding of the Act by taking a closer look at how it functions in specific areas. Let’s take a closer look at how the Act protects families and persons with disabilities.

3. Familial status

Unless a building or complex qualifies as housing for older persons, the landlord may not discriminate based on familial status. That is, she may not discriminate against families in which one or more children live with a parent or someone acting as a parent. Familial status protection also applies to pregnant women.

Some examples of protections of this class would include: A person cannot be evicted from housing because they have a child; Families cannot be restricted to one area of a building or complex; and, rules cannot unfairly target children such as, a landlord cannot forbid children from a common area that adults are permitted use. Advertisements cannot state that children are not wanted or that the property is restricted only to adults (unless it’s seniors-only housing).

4. Reasonable accommodations

The FHA is the core law ensuring that disabled individuals have access to housing enabling them to enjoy housing to the same extent as a non-disabled person. The Act requires all “covered multifamily dwellings” designed and constructed after March 13, 1991, to be readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.

Some of the accessible features required by the Act include; 1. Accessible building entrance on an accessible route. 2. Accessible and usable public and common use areas. 3. Usable doors. 4. Accessible route into and through the covered dwelling unit. 5. Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls

in accessible locations. 6. Reinforced walls for grab bars. 7. Usable kitchens and bathrooms.

If someone has a disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities, the landlord may not refuse to let them make reasonable modifications to the dwelling or common use areas, at the tenant’s expense. And the landlord may not refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services if necessary, for the disabled person to use the housing.

Examples: A building with a “no pets” policy must allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a guide dog. An apartment complex that offers tenants ample, unassigned parking must honor a request from a mobility-impaired tenant for a reserved space near her apartment so she can have access to her apartment.

5. Federal Enforcement of Fair Housing

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is responsible for enforcing the Fair Housing Act.

If you believe that you are a victim of housing discrimination, you can file a complaint with the HUD. Fair housing complaints can be filed online, or via email, phone or postal mail. Because there are time limits on when a complaint can be filed with HUD after an alleged violation, it’s important to submit a complaint as soon as possible after the incident. You can find more information about the complaint process here: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp