Our View: State evictions laws need clarification for fairness

 

 

 

When it comes to evictions, there are no winners.

 

For the property owner, when a tenant is unwilling or unable to pay the rent, it's a loss of income that the owner may need to maintain his business.

 

For the renter, it can be devastating. They find themselves without a home and the record of an eviction can make it difficult to find housing.

 

 

Yet while there are no winners, some lose more than others.

 

In Mississippi, the advantage goes to the property owner. Mississippi's laws governing landlord-tenant give the tenant few options.

 

A current lawsuit illustrates the imbalance.

 

In February of 2019, Samantha Conner was evicted from her Columbus apartment after a constable served an eviction notice. Conner was told she had to vacate the premises immediately and would not be allowed to take her personal possessions nor those of her teen-aged son.

 

The crux of the lawsuit relies on whether the landlord had a right to keep Conner's property without providing her ample opportunity to remove the possessions between the time the court issues a judgment and the time the eviction is executed. An ambiguous state law currently allows a landlord to get a judgment and evict on the same day, giving the tenant virtually no time to remove their possessions.

 

Did the property owner act in good faith? In this case, it's hard to fault Conner. A justice court judge had already ruled that Conner could have until the end of the month to either pay the outstanding rent or collect her property and vacate the apartment. Unknown to Conner was that after that ruling, the landlord sought an eviction from another justice court judge and under that judge's order no provisions were provided to allow Conner time to collect her belongings.

 

Landlords who act in good faith aren't usually punitive. They simply want tenants to abide by their rental agreements. When it comes to evictions, landlords typically want the tenant to take their possessions with them.

 

Renters, meanwhile, are not always intent on getting "free rent." More often, they are unable to pay their rent because of unforeseen circumstances -- unexpected expenses or the loss of a job, for example.

 

But as Conner's case indicates, the law should allow for those who face eviction to have an adequate amount of time to secure their possessions. We do not believe a landlord is entitled to those items by default.

 

But we believe both are entitled to fair treatment. The Legislature should amend the law to allow renters a reasonable amount of time to gather their possessions before evictions are executed.

 

 

 

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