An ‘Unofficial Eviction' in Richland County
Kimberley Lackland got five months behind on her rent in an apartment that grew increasingly unlivable. But her landlords turned down rental assistance money and let her lease expire. She managed to find a new place, but she’s aware how lucky that makes her.
- This story is part of South Carolina Public Radio's continuing coverage of the eviction crisis in the Palmetto State. For additional stories, click HERE.
Kimberley Lackland had a rough end to 2019. She’d been planning to marry the man with whom she’d had a 9-year-old son, but her fiancée died in December of that year.
It took a few months for her to stop reeling and return to her job as a front office manager at a hotel in Columbia. Right around April of 2020, actually.
The hospitality industry, the state’s main bread and butter, took a massive hit from the coronavirus pandemic. By the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s calculations, 15,000 hotel-related jobs were lost in South Carolina because of the pandemic.
For Lackland, that meant going from a 40-plus-hour workweek, on salary, to an 18-to-24-hour workweek on hourly pay that was $2 less per hour than before. She effectively lost half her income and was left to raise her son alone – which included her needing to stay home with him while he was in school.
When the hotel went back to giving employees regular hours, Lackland couldn’t go full-time because she still needed to be around often for her son, both to keep him attending virtual school and to keep him from making friends with some of the young men in the neighborhood who she fears would lead her son down a wrong path.
Lackland says she held on “until maybe November” of last year before she started having to play catch-up with the bills. Five months later, she was not getting anywhere good with them. Her rent was behind, fees added up, and she was still making half of what she used to make, with no help ahead from the man who was to be her husband.
Inside the apartment, living conditions went from not-great to horrible, she says. A pipe burst in her neighbor’s apartment and soaked hers. Attempts to call on maintenance got no answer until the following morning, she says. Soon after the landlords had the mess cleaned, she says she found black mold.
Her attempts to get problems addressed went nowhere, she says. But she still wanted to square up her back rent. She turned to Richland County’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, or ERAP, and got approved to get some money to her landlords – who by now were new owners.
But Lackland says the front office gave her grief for not wearing a mask or making an appointment to pay her rent. She is vaccinated against COVID and says she tried to show the managers her vaccination card.
But they did not want to see her card and did not accept her ERAP money.
In an email, Richland County Assistant Director of Emergency Services Mike King wrote: “The ERAP program is voluntary. The landlord (as well as the tenant) has the right to decline participation. In the event the landlord declines to participate the policy allows the program to provide the authorized funds directly to the tenant (applicant) to be used for rental arrears. This method has been used multiple times during the ERAP 1 program. The County does not have the right to require the landlord to accept ERAP funds, nor can we ask the landlord why they chose not to participate.”
The CDC’s eviction moratorium kept Lackland from being thrown out of her apartment, but that moratorium expired on Sunday.
Lackland’s lease has also expired and was not renewed, making it what housing advocates and researchers at Princeton University’s Eviction Lab refer to as an “unofficial eviction.” Lackland says she believes the new landlords have no motivation to fix some critical issues with the property and want tenants like her to just go away so that they can raise rent and draw new tenants.
True or not, Lackland and her son don’t live at this apartment anymore. They managed to find another place, across town, but can’t move in until September. In the meantime, they’re staying with her parents – which Lackland says is not a permanent solution.
Despite that she’s aware of the hit her credit score will take, Lackland says she’s hopeful about her “fresh start.” When her fiancée died, she got through it by recognizing that some things are just out of her control.
She feels the same way about her situation now. She says she’ll play the cards as she gets them, do her best, and keep the faith that everything is going to be OK.
But, she says, she’s aware of how lucky she is to have the option to move, when thousands in South Carolina face real eviction now that there is nothing official keeping renters in their homes.
This story is part of South Carolina Public Radio's continuing coverage of the eviction crisis in the Palmetto State. For more stories, click HERE.