COVID-19, Defending Democracy, News

Advocates, UNC legal clinic partner to offer eviction hotline for Spanish-speaking tenants

Immigrant advocates and the Civil Legal Assistance Clinic at the UNC School of Law announced this week a new eviction defense hotline for Spanish-speaking tenants.

Evictions hearings that had been put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic resumed earlier this week after the expiration of a statewide moratorium. The recent Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act protects an estimated 30% of all rental units nationwide from eviction until at least July 25.

However, the majority of tenants don’t know if their dwelling qualifies, and also don’t know how to provide or demand that information in a court hearing, according to a news release.

The CARES Act Eviction Information Hotline, operated by UNC’s Civil Legal Assistance Clinic and immigration advocacy organization Siembra NC, will help Spanish-speaking tenants identify whether their dwellings are covered under the CARES Act, and will present them with information to help them advocate for themselves in eviction hearings.

“This service will give Latino tenants access to information that could help them avoid eviction if their landlord takes them to court,” said Andrew Willis Garcés, director of Siembra NC. “We know Latinos are less likely to have access to attorneys or even to be able to read a court summons posted on their door, and we’re grateful to the UNC Civil Legal Assistance Clinic for their help in making sure tenants know their rights.”

The Latinx community accounts for more than 45% of all coronavirus cases in North Carolina, despite making up only about 10% of the statewide population, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Nearly half of all Spanish-speaking tenants in the state surveyed by Siembra NC reported they were unable to pay their full rent in May. Latinx tenants have also sent Siembra staff sent dozens of photos of letters sent to them from landlords demanding full payment and threatening eviction.

Eviction creates negative collateral consequences for individuals and communities. Particularly during the pandemic, eviction is a major public health problem, the release states. Congress decided to prevent evictions temporarily from properties with federal subsidies, tax credits, or federally-backed mortgages, but landlords benefit from an information advantage as to whether the law applies.

“We are grateful for Chief Justice Beasley’s recent order, which requires landlords to state affirmatively whether or not their properties are covered,” said Kathryn Sabbeth, associate professor of law and director of the Civil Legal Assistance Clinic. “But we believe tenants should also get an opportunity to test the landlords’ claims and access the underlying documents. As it is, tenants are significantly disadvantaged because the supply of tenants’ lawyers has not kept up with the numbers of tenants facing eviction. With this hotline, we hope to make a small dent in equalizing the playing field.”

Individuals seeking assistance from the CARES Act Eviction Information Line should send a text message with their full address, and property name if known, to the hotline: (919) 590-9165. Tenants will then receive an information packet via both text message and U.S. Mail based on the research results for their property.

Information provided by hotline operators will include:

• short infographics designed for social media and WhatsApp groups
• a guide to CARES Act protections
• the actual language of the CARES Act eviction moratorium
• a guide to self-representation in an eviction proceeding
• a guide to requesting an interpreter in court
• documents tenants can bring to court and can use to show judges how the law applies

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