Cover Story: Tenants rights

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Our Cover Story started about ten days ago.  You may recall WBTV had lawyers available for a day to provide free legal information.  One of the calls that came in involved a woman who said she'd helped a friend in need by giving her a temporary place to stay.  Now her tenant wouldn't leave.

When she e-mailed our newsroom asking us to look into it, we found a no trespassing sign in the yard.

The owner didn't put it there.  she's moved out, and the sign is new.  And it turns out her no trespassing sign carries the weight of the law.

You think of your home as your own.

And you'd never imagine that someone could take it from you, at least that's what one homeowner who e-mailed us said.

But as we did some digging, we uncovered a trend that seems to be taking hold during these times of increased home foreclosures.

"That I was absolutely livid."

Connie Holloway looks through the e-mails - never dreaming losing her home would be such a nightmare.

Last November at her home near SouthPark she agreed to let an acquaintance who was down on her luck move in.. rent free.

Knowing her home would eventually be foreclosed on-- she told the woman she could stay till the house sold.

Connie moved out, but wasn't a few weeks later she got the news through e-mail that the now-tenant wasn't going to leave.

"What do you mean you're not going to leave?" questioned Holloway.  "I gave you 30-days notice. Leave. What part of that do you not understand? In the normal world of responsibility.. somebody gives you free place.. to a certain amount of time.. then they tell you got to go you got to go."

As crazy as it may sound-- the tenant has the law on her side.  She would have to be evicted.  A months-long process involving having to go to court - to forcibly have someone removed.

"What it does is preserve the public peace."

Jay Tillman, an attorney who specializes in landlord tenant law says gone are the says of when a landlord could go in and put a padlock on the door or kick somebody out.

In 1995 North Carolina enacted the "Ejectment of Residential Tenants Act" which spells out exactly how a landlord is to have a tenant removed.

It involves going to the Clerk of Courts to issue a formal complaint, appearing before a Magistrate and arguing your case.  And if the tenant chooses to appeal the case goes before a District Court judge who then makes a final judgement.

Tillman says it's designed to put the tenant and landlord before an unbiased third party.  He says, "It makes it so that there is a very set procedure that both the landlord and the tenant understand in order for a landlord to regain possession of the landlord's property."

We went to Connie's home and found the woman who's been living there at home.

Despite a no-trespassing sign she put up, she invited us in but called the police once she discovered we were videotaping the residence.

Through the exchange she admitted why she wouldn't leave.

She recounted saying, "Connie you will have to evict me because the original agreement was that you said in November that Belinda you can stay here until the house foreclosed and you don't have to pay for anything."

Connie Holloway is having the company handing the short sale of her home take care of the eviction.

Having a tenant evicted can run up to 100 bucks and take about a month to go through in court.

So what should you do?  Have a well-drafted lease which defines the obligations of both parties.  You can get them from groups like the Apartment Association of North Carolina.

This is becoming part of a larger trend.  A congresswoman in Ohio is telling homeowners facing foreclosure to become squatters in their home as a way to send a message to Wall Street and the banks.  It's a tactic that's being criticized by the legal community.

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