Having a safe and secure home is central to health, financial stability, student success, and so much more. But far too many South Carolinians are vulnerable to losing their housing to an eviction. Eviction is the expulsion of renters by a landlord from property that he or she owns. They cause a renter to move from their home or apartment in a timeframe that wasn’t planned and in unwelcome circumstances.
Michelle Mapp, Equal Justice Works Law Fellow at the ACLU of South Carolina, joined us for a session on eviction law in South Carolina as a follow up to Greenville’s Promise. Michelle’s fellowship is sponsored by the Alston & Bird Racial Justice Fund.
Our top five takeaways from Michelle’s presentation:
- Evictions take place all over the country, but South Carolina has one of the highest eviction rates in the nation. Our rate is nearly twice that of any other state according to Eviction Lab, and 42 of our 46 counties were in the top 100 evicting counties in the United States. South Carolina landlords filed more than 162,000 evictions in 2019.
- Evictions in our state take place most often because people cannot pay their rent. More than half of renter households in South Carolina are struggling to pay their rent and are at risk of eviction. Most poor renters spend more than half of their monthly income on housing costs. Although people can and do get evicted for violating their leases by having pets, damaging property, or breaking the law, these situations happen far less often than renters just not being able to make ends meet.
- Our exceptionally high rate of eviction is the result of our state’s policies related to eviction (or lack thereof). An eviction is a legal process – a landlord initiates the eviction, and a tenant receives a notice to appear in court, which is an intimidating prospect without legal representation. South Carolina offers few protections for tenants in state law and notice requirements of landlords are minimal. But landlords have few barriers; it costs only $40 for a landlord to file an eviction, making us the third cheapest in the nation (behind only Maryland and DC where it’s $15). Eviction Lab has shown an inverse correlation between cost to evict and the number of evictions in the state. With such a low cost, landlords use the eviction process as a collections mechanism.
- Tenant Right to Counsel is a policy change that could help both tenants and landlords in South Carolina. Michelle shared that nationally, 81% of landlords have legal representation but only 3% of tenants have the same benefit, according to the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel. In South Carolina, 99.7% of tenants in South Carolina are unrepresented by legal counsel in eviction proceedings, according to the South Carolina Access to Justice Gap Report. When jurisdictions make counsel available to renters facing eviction, they are less likely to get evicted AND the landlord is more likely to get paid, making it a win for both parties. How can the state afford to offer free legal representation to renters? If we raised the evictions fee to $80, it would fully fund this service in our state.
- Other policy changes can also help reduce evictions. They include prohibiting source-of-income discrimination (such as a Section 8 voucher), ordinances related to eviction record sealing and expungement (meaning prospective landlords can’t see a previous no fault eviction or civil settlement on one’s record), rent stabilization legislation, and “just cause” eviction laws.
Read more about Tenant Right to Counsel in South Carolina, one of the most promising policy opportunities in our state.