Last Wednesday, Sen. Robert Ford (D-Charleston) introduced a bill that would revise the state Residential Landlord-Tenant Act in order to give people who have been evicted from a rental property more time to retrieve their personal property. That's fine, but there's more here than a simple reading of Ford's bill would indicate.
For starters, the laws governing rental property in South Carolina lean heavily toward the advantage of the tenant. Everything under the sun is in a lease in the Palmetto State, including tenant and landlord individual responsibilities.
None of this happens overnight. Already, state law requires landlords to give renters 30 days written notice before eviction. And magistrate court eviction notices are issued after tenants have been given the opportunity to respond to allegations that they violated their leases.
Ford's bill would give an evicted tenant an extra seven days from a magistrate's eviction notice to retrieve personal property before the landlord and a law enforcement official execute the order to vacate the premises. His bill would also require a landlord to store an evicted tenant's property for 30 days to allow the owner to recover his property. Putting the belongings on the street would be the final option.
Well, I know a lot of people who own or manage rental property and not one of them is in the business of depriving people of home and hearth. Empty rental units do not generate income. Evicted tenants are in the boats they're in because they didn't pay rent or they damaged property, things that are clearly specified in the leasing agreement.
Ford claims he didn't know landlords curbed the property of their evicted tenants. He says he was told of this by Charleston City Councilman Wendell Gilliard. I find all of this hard to believe.
Here's the real reason for the bill in my opinion:
Gilliard has been noisily agitating against the Charleston Housing Authority's eviction orders against five Gadsden Green public housing tenants. The evictees, all unmarried African-American mothers with minor children, were targeted for eviction because their teenaged sons were arrested on various criminal charges. Gilliard says the eviction orders are unfair because even though the Housing Authority specifies criminal conduct as a reason for eviction, he says the mothers did not "permit" their children to engage in criminal conduct.
To date, of the five Gadsden Green tenants, two have vacated, two are still under an eviction cloud, and one may be allowed to remain as a resident.
Gilliard told The Post and Courier, "We're not trying to change the law. We're trying to make sure the law is applied in a fair and just manner." I'm still trying to figure out what that means, but I'm going to assume that he wants landlords like the Charleston Housing Authority to be responsible for a soon-to-be-evicted-tenant's failure to look for an alternative residence. Ford hasn't figured out who is supposed to pay for the storage costs of the evictee's goods; he wants to look at other states' laws for inspiration.
If Ford and Gilliard want to revise federal, state, and local public housing policies, then they need to concentrate their efforts there. As far as the ladies from Gadsden Green are concerned, they knew or should have known what was written in the leases they signed.
Nobody was holding a gun to their heads.