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 Human Relations

LANDLORD / TENANT HANDBOOK


 

HOW TO USE THIS HANDBOOK

Use this handbook somewhat like a dictionary, but really use it! Put it in some safe, reliable place so you'll be sure to have it when you need it!

 

When housing problems arise, consult this handbook. Better yet, look at the Table of Contents before problems arise. Read the list of topics. Find the topics that cover your situation. Read these sections backward and forward until you understand them well.

 


Warning: Complete as it is, this Handbook may not cover your exact case. Nor is it meant as a substitute for specific legal advice on your particular case. If necessary, seek help (legal or otherwise) through the section on "Resources."

 


 

TIPS FOR TENANTS/RENTERS

  • Check your credit rating with the local Credit Bureau before making application to rent. You can be denied housing because of a bad credit rating.
  • Inspect the property before signing a lease or rental agreement. Make a list of all damages and fixtures that need repair. Ask the landlord to sign or initial the list of repairs needed. If the landlord is not present or refuses, have a witness sign that they have noted needed repairs. Keep this list, for it will indicate any damage or repairs needed when you moved in and may help you get your security deposit back when you move.
  • Read your lease carefully and be sure you understand it before signing.
  • Ask for a copy of the lease or rental agreement which you and the landlord have signed.
  • Always ask for a receipt which shows the date of payment of rent, the amount paid and the period covered by the rent (especially when paying in cash). If you pay rent by check or money order, you should also keep the returned check or a copy of the money order as your record of having paid.
  • Immediately before you move out, have the landlord inspect the property for damages that may reduce your security deposit. Having witnesses present or taking photographs or video tapes of the dwelling also are useful if you must prove in court that the landlord wrongfully withheld your security deposit.

WHAT CAN HUMAN RELATIONS DO TO HELP

The Human Relations Commission and staff can:

  • Help resolve disputes between you and your landlord or rental agent or assist you in writing a letter to your landlord.
  • Assist you if the landlord ignores or refuses to make needed repairs.
  • Inform you of your rights if your landlord tries to evict you for some unfair reason, such as your asking for repairs, etc.
  • Mediate complaints of unfair treatment and discrimination in housing. Both federal and North Carolina law prohibit discrimination based upon race, creed, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status (refusing to rent to families because they have children, including single parents and pregnant women, under 18 years of age) and discrimination on the basis of disability, such as blindness or being confined to a wheel chair.

If you feel you have been treated unfairly or discriminated against in renting/buying a house, contact the Human Relations Commission.

TENANT RESPONSIBILITIES

As a tenant, you must:

  • Pay rent on time. State law does not allow tenants to withhold rent for any reason. You can be evicted for withholding rent.
  • Comply with all terms of the lease. (Some landlords use documents called "rental agreements" or "contracts." Regardless of what it is labelled, a written document concerning your agreement with your landlord is a lease.)
  • Maintain property in safe and sanitary condition. Your security (damage) deposit can be withheld for damages to property.
  • Your landlord can take you to court to recover funds for damages, if they exceed the amount of the security deposit, or to recover back rent.
  • Clean and use correctly supplied fixtures, (sinks, commodes, tubs, etc.). You are responsible for damages done by anyone visiting you.
  • Not disturb neighbors with loud excessively music, etc.

TENANT RIGHTS

  • You may enjoy the peaceful use and full enjoyment of the property or dwelling.
  • The landlord must comply with the city's minimum housing code.
  • You cannot be locked out of a dwelling or evicted by the landlord except by order of a Magistrate (Small Claims Court) and eviction can be carried out, legally, only by the Sheriff's Department.
  • If you comply with the rental agreement, your security deposit must be returned within 30 days after you move out. If the landlord/agent says you have damaged the property, he is required to give you an itemized list of damages and cost of repairs before he/she can withhold your security (damage) deposit.
  • If the landlord does not make necessary repairs within a reasonable period of time, you may ask the City Building Inspector to inspect the dwelling. If you are asked to move and you feel it is because you requested an inspection, you can protest the eviction in court as a "Retaliatory Eviction" (see EVICTION section under "Possible Defense to Summary Ejectment".)
  • You are protected by the Retaliatory Eviction Act for up to one year, unless your landlord can show good cause for evicting you, such as non-payment of rent, damage, etc.
  • You should be informed in writing by your landlord, within 60 days of paying the deposit, in which bank his/her security deposit has been deposited or what type bonds have been purchased (unless such information is contained in the lease).
  • If you do not receive, or you are unable to use, services normally provided by a landlord, such as heat, air conditioning, water, and hot water, for an unreasonable length of time, (through no fault of your own) you may be entitled to a rebate or reduced rental rate.

HOW A LANDLORD MAY EVICT A TENANT

North Carolina law does not permit a landlord to evict you except by taking you to court. This court action is called "summary ejectment."

The landlord may not force you out. The landlord may not change the locks himself, nor try to evict you by turning the utilities off (water, electricity, etc.) The landlord may not attempt to evict or force you to pay rent by taking your personal property, except through court action.

You may leave voluntarily, but the only way a landlord can legally make you leave is by having the judge rule that you are to be evicted. Actual eviction must be carried out by the Sheriff or his deputies.

WHEN THE LANDLORD CAN USE SUMMARY EJECTMENT TO EVICT A TENANT

If you have a written lease, the landlord can bring a summary ejectment action for violation of one or more of its terms. Some written leases allow the landlord to do this immediately or with very little notice. Check the lease to determine the time period and any conditions which might apply. If there is no written lease, the landlord can bring a summary ejectment action for no reason at all after giving proper notice. If there is no written lease and you pay the rent on a monthly basis, the landlord must give at least seven days' notice prior to the end of the month in which you last paid rent.

If rent is paid on a weekly basis, the landlord must give at least two days' notice prior to the end of the week in which you last paid rent. If you rent a mobile home space, the landlord must give 30 days' notice to vacate regardless of when you pay rent. These notices do not have to be in writing.

EVICTION FOR FAILURE TO PAY RENT

Most written leases say that the landlord can take you to court immediately and without notice for failure to pay rent on time. The landlord does not have to accept late rent. If there is no written lease and you fail to pay rent, the landlord must demand the rent from you 10 days before beginning a summary ejectment action for eviction. This demand does not have to be in writing.

Until the court rules that the landlord can have possession of the premises, you can stop the eviction if you offer all of the past due rent and late charges unless you have violated some condition of the lease or rental agreement. (If there are late charges, they must be limited to $15 or 5% of the rental payment, whichever is more.) If the landlord has started a summary ejectment action, you must also offer to pay the court costs in order to stop the eviction.

Remember that stopping an eviction by offering to pay past due rent and court costs works only if there is no written lease, unless the Landlord agrees to accept late rent and costs. Get such agreements in writing.

SUMMARY EJECTMENT

Going To Court

"Summary ejectment" is the name of the court action which a landlord must use to evict you.

The landlord starts the action by filing papers in court. The papers, called a "summons and complaint," would be served on you by the Sheriff. The summons gives the date and time of the hearing, and the complaint gives the reason the landlord claims that you must be evicted (for example, non-payment of rent.)

The Court Hearing

The court hearing usually is held within a week after you are served with the summons and complaint. The case is heard in Small Claims Court before a judge who is called a Magistrate. Most landlords and tenants who appear in this court are not represented by a lawyer, though each can have his lawyer present if he wishes.

As the tenant, you are not required to go to court, but the landlord will probably win his case if you do not appear. You cannot stop the eviction by not going to court. However, you cannot not be arrested for failure to go to court either, because this is a civil, rather than a criminal action.

In court, the landlord must prove that the landlord-tenant relationship exists, that there is a lease (either written or oral), and that you have violated it, or that the lease has expired, or that the landlord has given you proper notice to leave.

If the landlord/agent claims that you did not pay rent, he must present evidence which shows that you failed to pay. Most Magistrates require written records. After the landlord presents his case, you can raise any defense you have. (See Possible Defenses to Summary Judgment section).

Judgment

If the Magistrate believes the landlord, a judgment will be entered giving the landlord possession of the premises. The Magistrate can also give the landlord a judgment for the money which you owe, such as back rent, or because of damages to the premises.

After the judgment is entered by the court, the landlord still may not evict you by himself. Ten more days have to pass before the landlord may ask the Clerk of Court for for an execution of the judgment in order to put you out.

Appeal

Within these 10 days, you can appeal to a higher court if you believe the Magistrate was wrong. You must file an appeal with the Clerk and pay the rent to the Clerk of Court (not to the landlord) as it becomes due in order to stay until the appeal is heard. The Clerk of Court has forms which explain how the appeal is done. If you cannot afford to appeal, you can file the appeal as a pauper.

Execution

After the 10 days have passed and you have not appealed, the landlord must ask the Clerk of Court for an execution of the judgment in order to put you out.

Remember that, even at this point, the landlord may not put you out himself but continue with the legal process.

The Clerk of Court will issue an execution to the Sheriff, ordering the Sheriff to remove you and lock the property. (Remember that the landlord must wait 10 days after the Magistrate issues the judgment before he can ask the Clerk for an execution of this judgment.) About a week will pass before the Sheriff actually comes out to evict you. (This time period can vary depending on the workloads of the Clerk and the Sheriff.)

The Sheriff should give you at least two days' notice before he evicts you.

Remember that the only way the landlord can have you evicted is for the Sheriff to do so after the order of execution has been issued. At no time can the landlord put you out.

TENANT'S PERSONAL PROPERTY

Before the Sheriff evicts you, you must remove your personal property or it may be locked in the premises or stored.

In order to get your personal property back you may have to pay the costs of court, the execution and the storage proceedings, plus a storage charge for the property itself.

COLLECTING BACK RENT OR DAMAGES

If the Sheriff evicts you, and you do not pay that part of the judgment for back rent or damages, the landlord may ask the Sheriff to sell some of your property to satisfy the judgment. Many landlords do not do this, and since the State of North Carolina lets a tenant withhold a significant amount of property from the Sheriff, many tenants do not have enough property for the Sheriff to take. If the judgment is not paid, your credit may be hurt and you may find it more difficult to rent another place. You may pay off a judgment to the court at any time, even after the landlord has executed the judgment.

STAYING IN THE PREMISES AFTER JUDGMENT

Once the landlord gets a judgment against you, an offer of rent will not necessarily stop him from having you removed. Even if the landlord accepts the back rent, he can still have the Sheriff execute the judgment and put you out because the Court generally gives the landlord two things: possession and back rent.

Payment of back rent satisfies only one part of the judgment. Putting the tenant out and locking the premises satisfies the other part of the judgment.

You should be very sure that the landlord will agree in writing to withdraw the execution and let you stay in the premises before paying any rent after the judgment is entered and before the Sheriff executes.

POSSIBLE DEFENSES TO SUMMARY EJECTMENT

In order to raise these defenses, you must go to court at the time set for the trial and testify.

You also must have your witnesses present,(if any) and any documents or receipts which support your case. If the landlord claims that you are behind in rent, you can defend against this, if it is not true, with records showing payment (for example, receipts or canceled checks). To stop the landlord from getting possession of the premises, you must prove you owe no rent. Non-payment of any rent owed is never a defense to summary ejectment.

Failure to give proper notice is a defense if your landlord fails to give the required notice before beginning a summary ejectment action (see "When the Landlord Can Use Summary Ejectment to Evict a Tenant" and "Eviction for Failure to Pay Rent".) These notices do not have to be in writing unless the lease requires it, so this defense may involve the landlord's word against yours.

You may claim that the landlord failed to do necessary repairs to keep the dwelling fit and habitable and, therefore, you should not owe as much rent as the landlord is claiming. This will require proof (for example, witnesses, such as the City Housing Inspector). Even if you are successful, this will usually result in a reduced judgment for back rent and will not prevent a judgment for possession.

A landlord may evict you for breach of a lease provision. For example, the landlord may claim you are making excessive noise and disturbing the neighbors. The landlord must prove to the Magistrate that this occurred. Unless he has heard the disturbance himself, he must have witnesses present who can testify about it. If you have witnesses, you should have them testify.

The law says that a landlord may not evict a tenant because the tenant has tried to make the landlord keep the premises repaired, for example, by complaining to the landlord, or calling the Housing Inspector. If your landlord tries to evict you for this reason, it is called a "retaliatory eviction." You must prove to the court that the landlord is evicting you for this reason. You can use this as a defense any time within 12 months after you have tried to get the landlord to do the repairs or called the City Building or Housing Inspector. You cannot use this defense if you are behind on the rent or you have violated the lease in some other way. This defense may not be used if the landlord cannot make the repairs while you are still living in the premises, or intends to live in the premises him/herself.

ACTIONS WHICH ARE NOT DEFENSES TO SUMMARY EJECTMENT

Non-payment of rent for any reason is never a defense to summary ejectment. You may never withhold rent to try to force your landlord to make repairs. You may not do or arrange to have the repairs done yourself and deduct the costs from the rent. You cannot stop the eviction by asking that the security deposit be applied to rent which is currently owed or is past due.

RESOURCES

High Point Human Relations Commission

The HRC can provide non-financial assistance, advise you of your rights and whether they have been violated and mediate complaints of unfair treatment and discrimination in housing.

HRC suggests you first call the High Point Human Relations office to assist you in verifying whether your complaint is valid, and if necessary, provide you a referral to counseling and mediation services.

HRC is always willing to refer you to another agency for a second opinion should you disagree with its findings.

High Point Human Relations Commission
211 South Hamilton Street Room 117
P. O. Box 230
High Point, North Carolina
(336) 883-3124

Legal Aid

Legal Aid lawyers provide legal assistance to persons qualifying for their services and may represent you in housing matters. To qualify you have to have a low income.

Central Carolina Legal Services, Inc.
107 North Murrow Blvd - P.O. Box 3467
Greensboro, North Carolina 27402-3467
(336) 272-0148 (Greensboro)
(336) 885-9181 (High Point)
1-800-722-1640 (Toll Free) FAX: (336) 333-9825

NORTH CAROLINA HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION

North Carolina law now prohibits discrimination in most housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap and familial status. Complaints of discrimination must be filed within 180 days of the incident or act.

You can file a complaint of discrimination by contacting the N.C. Human Relations Commission.

By Telephone -(336) 733-7996
By mail - 116 West Jones Street, Raleigh, North Carolina 27611 or
In person - 121 West Jones Street, Raleigh, North Carolina

U.S. DEPT OF HOUSING & URBAN DEVELOPMENT (HUD)

You can also file complaints of discrimination with the HUD Area Office in Greensboro. Most public housing programs are federally funded. Several of these are administered directly by the HUD Area Office which has information on housing programs which it will provide upon request.

U.S. Dept of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) Greensboro Area Office
415 North Edgeworth Street
Greensboro, North Carolina 27401
(336)333-5361 or 333-5255
TDD 333-5518

 


This information was produced by the High Point Human Relations Commission with the assistance of Central Carolina Legal Services, Inc.

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