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SC extends halt on evictions, foreclosures another two weeks amid coronavirus downturn

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S.C. Chief Justice Donald Beatty ordered halt to foreclosures, evictions (2020_4_30 copy)

S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Beatty on April 30, 2020, extended a statewide halt on evictions, providing relief for tenants who are out of work. File/AP

South Carolina extended its statewide halt on evictions another two weeks, providing some relief for renters as the economy tanks and tens of thousands are out of work.

However, S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Beatty's new order delaying eviction proceedings until May 15 stopped short of a longer stay requested by several legal and civic advocate groups. 

Those groups, in a letter to Beatty earlier this month, requested the moratorium extend through Aug. 24 — the same expiration date of federal protections on evictions that do not apply to all South Carolina renters.

"I think we’re going to continue to evaluate this to determine whether or not there's still a need to push for additional time," said Sue Berkowitz, director of Appleseed Legal Justice, one of 10 groups that signed the letter. "But we’re pleased the chief responded to all the organizations’ request and is giving some more time."

Beatty's order Thursday also extends his earlier stay on foreclosure proceedings until May 15. The order does not relieve tenants and homeowners from owing landlords and lenders every month.

After first halting evictions on March 18, Beatty has stressed South Carolinians must continue meeting those monthly housing obligations. His stay was scheduled to expire Friday.

More critically, Beatty's order also requires landlords who file evictions in the coming weeks to prove that they are not subject to other federal restrictions on evictions that apply to some federally backed properties. Advocates had cautioned Beatty that without those disclosures from landlords, tenants would be unable to determine if they were covered under the federal protections.

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Landlords are barred from evicting tenants in public housing and properties with federally backed mortgages for failure to pay rent until Aug. 24. In South Carolina, tenants of the state’s roughly 100,000 public housing units and thousands more who use federally subsidized housing vouchers should be covered.

In a state with some of the highest eviction rates in the country, South Carolina courts handle roughly 140,000 evictions each year.

A spike in cases caused by a record wave of lost jobs would cause more backlogs, the advocates argued in their four-page letter to Beatty. More than 400,000 South Carolinians have filed for unemployment in the past six weeks.

For their part, landlords have said they need rent money to cover their own bills, including monthly mortgage payments, to keep the tenants in their homes in the first place.

Still, because federal relief may not be coming for many renters, some advocates have called on state leaders to install additional safeguards. In addition to delaying eviction proceedings, those could include emergency funding for assistance, or a stay on rent altogether, they contend.

Several other states and large cities have enacted such measures.

The federal government has made some aid available, including expanding unemployment benefits by $600 per week and disbursing $1,200 stimulus checks. But lawyers have cautioned that the money isn’t nearly enough to cover rent and other needs of families who are out of work.

Follow Joseph Cranney on Twitter @joey_cranney.

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