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To keep people from losing homes during outbreak, SC Supreme Court halts all foreclosures

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S.C. Chief Justice Donald Beatty ordered halt to foreclosures, evictions (2020_3_19 copy)

S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Beatty has halted evictions and foreclosures in response to the coronavirus outbreak. File/AP

COLUMBIA — The S.C. Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a statewide halt on foreclosures, its latest measure aimed at ensuring people don't lose their homes during the coronavirus outbreak. 

The edict from Chief Justice Donald Beatty called for an indefinite moratorium on any foreclosure hearings, sale of foreclosed property or other court orders mandating people leave their homes. 

Beatty's order recognized "increased housing insecurity and homelessness will worsen the threat posed by the illness."

Earlier this week, Beatty ordered a freeze on all evictions, statewide, until May 1.

Lawyers and advocates had been pushing for the high court to step in to protect residents, especially those living on a low income, from being kicked out of their homes amid the deadly pandemic.

Beatty's order Thursday addressed another issue: With many businesses closing, part of the workforce for an unknown period will likely be out of a job and fall behind on their bills.

"We can't penalize people for not having the income they expected," said Rep. Marvin Pendarvis, a North Charleston Democrat.

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Much of the state's court system has ground to a halt. Beatty earlier this week suspended all jury trials in the state's felony and lower courts. On Thursday, he also put a halt to most proceedings in family court, allowing for some exceptions like emergency custody or domestic violence protection orders. 

He ordered all the state's circuit and family court judges to remain in their home circuits to preside only over emergency hearings.

Beatty halted evictions Tuesday, the day after The Post and Courier reported that two families were evicted in Lexington County magistrate court.

The evicted included a father of four children and his pregnant wife, as well as a single mother who complained of a cough.

Magistrate Rebecca Adams had ordered those families out within 10 days, but after Beatty's mandate she said those orders would be postponed. 

Magistrates often give evicted tenants a few days to move out before issuing formal ejection orders as a way of avoiding burdening people's records with evictions.

Addressing that practice, Beatty expanded his evictions mandates Thursday. His most recent order not only halts all eviction hearings, it also prevents any South Carolina judge from issuing an order ejecting people from their homes.

Follow Joseph Cranney on Twitter @joey_cranney.

Joseph Cranney is a reporter based in Columbia, covering state and local government. He previously covered government and sports for newspapers in Florida and Pennsylvania.

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