Fulton County continues to see eviction filings despite a court order suspending hearings during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to records that WABE collected from the Fulton County Magistrate Court’s website, landlords have filed more than 1,000 eviction cases in the month since the order went into place on March 13.
The order, prompted by a statewide judicial emergency, stopped court hearings for all non-essential matters, including landlord-tenant cases. But it continued to allow filings, which are the start of the eviction process.
Filings do appear to have declined compared to the same period of March and April of last year, although only slightly. Just one business day after the court’s order in response to COVID-19, landlords sent more than 250 new cases to the Fulton County Courthouse.
Created by Stephannie Stokes with data from Fulton County Magistrate Court records
Georgia Tech Professor Elora Raymond, who has studied evictions in Fulton County, said any filings that happen during the pandemic will affect tenants later on.
“Once you get that eviction filing, even if there is a stay, it does follow you around,” she said. “You start to become limited to just places that will take someone with a damaged credit report.”
Despite the filings, landlords can’t remove tenants from their properties until court hearings resume. Even so, Raymond said eviction notices may be enough to persuade some tenants to leave their housing.
Fulton County’s sheriff’s office has said that it is not serving eviction notices in response to the COVID-19 virus. In the meantime, landlords have the option to use private services to deliver notices. Based on a review of Fulton County magistrate court records, many landlords are exercising that option.
It is not legal for landlords to serve eviction notices on their own. Tenants could use that as a defense against their evictions when the court begins hearing cases again. That is now expected to happen on May 14.
According to the latest court order in Fulton County, tenants will have one week after the re-opening to file an answer in response to their landlords’ eviction claims. The original order only gave 48 hours for responses.
There’s been confusion around evictions since the start of the coronavirus crisis. Unlike some states where governors or executive officials publicly announced moratoriums on evictions, Georgia has left eviction matters up to each individual county.
An executive order last month by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms also has been misinterpreted by some to mean that no evictions can happen in the city for 60 days. Her order only affects city-subsidized housing.
Fulton County has one of the busiest eviction courts in the state. It handles more than 40,000 cases every year.
Are you a landlord who has filed for eviction during the pandemic? Or are you a tenant who received an eviction notice during? Would you like to share your experience? Get in touch with us here.