CHARLOTTE · November 21, 2019—If you live in the Charlotte area, there’s a decent chance that you’ve seen our housing attorneys in the news recently.
Housing is a hot topic in the Queen City. One of the country's fastest growing major metropolises, Charlotte's housing stock, especially its affordable housing, can't keep up with the influx of newcomers.
As demand outpaces supply, property values—and rents—continue to rise, squeezing out more and more renters of modest income.
There's a name for this phenomenon: gentrification.
Far from sweeping it under the rug, community leaders are putting the issue in the forefront of the public discussion of the city's future.
Our team of tenant advocates is making the most of the moment by making sure that renters' rights remain a key focus of that discussion.
The team’s newly raised public profile is thanks in large part to a generous infusion of funds—and office space—from Mecklenburg County.
Over the last two years, the county has given us $809,123 to beef up the ranks of our housing team. The funding allowed us to hire eight entry-level attorneys, one experienced attorney, four paralegals and one receptionist—more than doubling the size of the team.
All those people needed somewhere to work, and our existing office space on Elizabeth Avenue was bursting at the seams. The county stepped in and offered us space in a county-owned building on Billingsley Road practically free of charge.
The team has hit the ground running, and their efforts are attracting the attention of major local media. Here is a sampling of recent news featuring Charlotte's heroes of housing justice.
In this WSOC-TV segment, housing attorney O’Shauna Hunter discusses the negative impact that even a dismissed eviction can have on a renter’s ability to find housing.
The segment includes an interview with one of O’Shauna’s clients, who tells her heartbreaking story of struggling to find safe, suitable housing for her family. Her problem? A single dismissed eviction filing against her in court records.
To be clear: O’Shauna’s client was
not evicted. Her landlord filed an eviction against her but later dismissed it, something that happens all the time. Tenants can come up short with rent money on the first of the month, prompting an eviction filing, but then come up with the rest before the eviction goes through, prompting the landlord to dismiss the action.
Unfortunately, the distinction between a dismissed eviction and an actual one does not seem to matter much to landlords, who routinely reject prospective renters—no questions asked—who have such marks on their records.
Tommy Holderness, a housing attorney in our Charlotte office, talks with clients outside eviction court in Charlotte on August 23. Photo by Mary Newsom.
Mary Newsom, writing for the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, sheds some light on a critical imbalance in eviction court: most landlords have lawyers, while most tenants don't.
The housing team in our Charlotte office is working to change that.
"Thanks to Mecklenburg County funding," Newsom writes, "Once or twice a week lawyers from Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Charlotte office wait outside eviction court to assist tenants."
And we're making a difference: 85% of the clients we represented in the last fiscal year had their eviction prevented or delayed.
"It can be overwhelming, and eviction court can be a stressful place if you have never been or are not used to it," Isaac Sturgill, head of our Charlotte office's housing team, tells WSOC-TV's Joe Bruno
in this October 1 segment about the mass eviction of tenants from Lake Arbor Apartments.
Owners of the complex are trying to clear out almost all of the tenants by the end of the year so they can rehab the property, which the city found to be riddled with code violations, including broken smoke detectors, exposed electrical wiring, damaged plumbing and broken exterior lighting. Tenants also complained of mold, roaches, sewage back-ups, summers without air conditioning and more.
Unlike in most eviction cases, where the landlord has a lawyer but the tenant does not, many Lake Arbor tenants will have a Legal Aid lawyer by their side. Every day that the court will hear a Lake Arbor case, members of our housing team will be there to ensure that the tenant's voice is heard and their rights are protected.
In this WSOC-TV segment, Isaac Sturgill, supervising attorney of the housing team, discusses his representation of two women who allege that they were victims of sexual harassment while living in Orchard Park Apartments, a federally subsidized apartment complex in Charlotte.
The women allege that a maintenance worker groped them and made sexual comments to them, including by telling one of the women that he would fix anything in her apartment if she had sex with him.
They also allege that the property manager, after hearing their allegations, blew them off, calling one of the women a "hoe" and a "crack addict" who "sold meth." One of the women alleges that, after informing the property manager that she had sought help from Legal Aid, the property manager towed a car that she used, for specious reasons.
In August, in Mecklenburg County District Court, we sued the company that owns Orchard Park, the property management company, the property manager and the maintenance worker.
In our complaint, we allege violations of state and federal law, including the federal Fair Housing Act.
The case moved to federal court in September.
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Do you need help with eviction, repairs or other housing problems? Call our statewide toll-free
Helpline at 1-866-219-5262. Also check out our free
Tenant Rights Clinic and the landlord-tenant resources in our
About Legal Aid of North Carolina
Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice and to remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. Follow us on
Sean Driscoll, Director of Public Relations, Legal Aid of North Carolina, 919-856-2132,