SOUTHEASTERN, N.C.—A new state law will make it easier for landlords to recover out-of-pocket legal expenses from tenants during eviction cases.
Senate Bill 224 became law on Monday; it allows landlords to recover “reasonable” attorneys’ fees incurred from a tenant in the eviction process. Landlords may now also recover filing fees charged by the court, that is, the cost to issue a summons for the tenant to appear in court.
Under the new law, amount landlords can recover are not unlimited. In cases where the tenant owes back rent, recovered legal fees cannot exceed 15 percent of the amount owed. For other cases, the recovered fees cannot exceed 15 percent of the monthly rent.
The bill was technically sponsored in 2017 by State Senator Michael Lee, who represents North Carolina’s 3rd District in New Hanover County. The first version of the bill was written to establish a new criminal offense category for habitual breaking and entering.
“This bill modified Chapter 14 to create a habitual breaking and entering status offense,” Lee wrote in an email. “The House deleted the body of the bill the Senate passed and inserted the provisions you now see (this is known as a Proposed Committee Substitute).”
With the bill gutted, the law still appears with Lee’s name as a primary sponsor. “As such, S224 you see now was not the bill that I sponsored,” Lee wrote.
Before this new legislation passed, landlords could not recover personal legal fees, although they were entitled to charge late fees, a complaint filing fee, a court appearance fee and a second trial fee under §42-46.
North Carolina’s Department of Justice updated its packet on residential tenant rights this month before the new law passed. Laura Brewer, spokesperson for the North Carolina Department of Justice (NCDOJ), said her office had not yet had the chance to fully review the new legislation.
The NCDOJ’s packet largely focuses on residential tenant rights and landlords’ maintenance and repair duties, which reflects current state laws.
Senate Bill 224 was one of several bills that passed the General Assembly and sat on Governor Roy Cooper’s desk without a signature or a veto. Under North Carolina’s general statutes, bills passed by the General Assembly automatically become law after 10 days of gubernatorial inaction.
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