NC House Bill 366 – unfair provision impacting families living in motels

Email sent to the NC House and Senate Representatives of Mecklenburg County by Mike O’Sullivan

I am writing on behalf of OneMECK concerning HB 366 that is under review by the NC Senate. This bill currently contains a provision that would take away safeguards for people living in motels, and give landlords the power to eject them at will. We ask that you work to remove this provision, or at least modify it to make it less cruel and unfair.
Specifically, Sec. 10 of House Bill 366 authorizes residential motel operators to re-classify tenants who live in their rooms (and have no other home) as “transient guests” for the first 90 days of their leases. Operators would be empowered to lock out such “guests” at the end of any occupancy period (typically a week) for any reason without warning and take all of the tenants’ food, medicine, clothes, documents, and all other property. The operators could exercise this power without any prior eviction judgment by a court and without any supervision by law enforcement. It invites violent confrontations. And CMS reports that some 1100 of our students reside in motels, imagine the effect on the children!

North Carolina law for the past 220 years has never allowed landlords of residential properties to exercise such unilateral and total power over their tenants. In 1800 the NC Supreme Court decided that landlords could evict their tenants only by judicial ejectment actions. For the following 220 years landlords have been prohibited from taking the law in their own hands and locking out tenants without a court order.

In 1991 the NC Court of Appeals ruled that residents of motels who live there and pay rent are entitled to the same legal status and rights as all other tenants living in houses and apartments. This bill will arbitrarily strip the thousands of motel tenants of those rights regardless of their individual records of payment and good behavior.

Increasingly as rental properties become more and more inaccessible to low-income families, especially if there is a prior eviction filed, hotels and motels are “home” and people have no other residence, often for months or even years though they have steady jobs and a stable income. They are residents who contribute significantly to our economy as they cook and serve our meals, drive package delivery trucks, take care of our neighbor’s children, deliver groceries and meals, serve loved ones in local hospitals and more.

Claims have been made that the federal moratorium on evictions and the Attorney General’s letter to motel landlords “handcuffed“ police from removing people who were destroying property or committing serious crimes. That is simply incorrect. Police can arrest anyone that commits a crime anywhere, but that does not deprive the accused of a right to trial if he or she disputes the charge. The federal moratorium by the CDC expressly exempted evictions for property destruction, criminal activity, and other issues beyond nonpayment. Motel landlords would not be “stuck” with these troublemakers. The Expedited Eviction of Drug Traffickers Act gives all landlords access to expedited eviction trials in the court of their choice and provides for emergency injunctions against criminal activities, which is enforceable by contempt (including jail). No moratorium on evictions has prevented motel landlords from using this legal remedy.

HB 366 is flawed because it fails to target only the few motel occupants who are committing serious crimes and causing property damage. The result of the bill as written would make more families homeless, adding additional burdens to our social services system including our hospitals and jails where many often land both here and across North Carolina.
The current protections for those living in hotels/motels have been in place for 30+ years and serve an important purpose. We urge you not to allow these protections to be stripped away with HB 366.

— Mike O’Sullivan, Chair, OneMECK Affordable Housing Committee