Originally on The Center Square

April 3, 2020

Attorney General Josh Stein has moved to block the evictions of North Carolinians living in hotels and motels while the state is under a COVID-19 stay-at-home order.

Stein sent nearly 100 letters to owners of the establishments who have reportedly threatened to remove guests who used the rooms as their primary residence.

"Many North Carolinians are facing job loss and financial burdens and struggling to make ends meet because of the COVID-19 pandemic," Stein said in a statement. "It's more important than ever that businesses follow the law, do the right thing, and prevent additional harm to consumers."

Long-term residents in hotels and motels are protected under state landlord-tenant consumer protection laws, Stein said.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals in 1991 ruled individuals who live in hotels and motels are to be treated the same as tenants. Business owners would need a court order instituted by a local sheriff's office to remove the guests from the property.

Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, however, has placed a 30-day ban on eviction and foreclosure hearings, which lasts through April 17.

Hotel and motel owners who break the consumer protection law could face a fine of $5,000 for each violation.

Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order March 27 that mandated North Carolinians stay at home for 30 days except to take care of others, buy necessary supplies and for health and safety reasons, including exercise. The order, which started Monday, lasts through April 29.

Renters in North Carolina also have another layer of protection.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, on March 18, placed a 60-day moratorium on evictions.

"People want to pay their bills – and if they can, they will and should," Stein said. "But many North Carolinians have lost their jobs and their income. That is why I am asking landlords to work out payment plans for these tenants."

The hospitality industry has taken one of the biggest economic hits so far because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lynn Minges, president and CEO of the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association (NCRLA), said during a Facebook forum Monday that many hotel owners also are facing evictions and foreclosures as they struggle to maintain cash on hand to fuel operations.

As of Friday morning, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 2,093 COVID-19 cases in the state – including 19 deaths – and 259 current hospitalizations.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus. The disease has caused at least 7,028 deaths in the U.S., with more than 273,000 confirmed cases in the country. COVID-19 symptoms appear within two to 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, runny nose and difficulty breathing.