Throughout the wake of COVID-19 and practicing social distancing, information and resources will be posted here under “What You Need to Know: COVID-19 in Buncombe County”
According to Governor Roy Cooper, although Buncombe County’s recently enacted stay-at-home order is set to expire Thursday, April 9, residents shouldn’t expect to resume business as usual once that date arrives. At a March 27 press conference, Cooper announced that throughout North Carolina the stay-at-home will stay in effect until Wednesday, April 29, in an effort to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
A violation of the state order is a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
During a briefing on March 26, Fletcher Tove, Buncombe County’s emergency preparedness coordinator explained the definition of an essential business in the wake of a supplemental state of emergency declaration, that was signed by Board of Commissioners Chair Brownie Newman on March 25, ordering all nonessential operations closed as of 8 p.m. March 26 to combat the spread of COVID-19.
He noted that the county had since received over 600 requests to be exempted from the order, most of them from business owners whose work was already listed as essential.
Tove encouraged all residents to read the order itself and the county’s interpretive guidance, but he singled out several specific businesses for clarification during the briefing.
Some Key Points:
- Lawn care companies and in-person real estate showings are not considered essential,
- Credit unions, construction, housecleaning and babysitting are all allowed.
- Workers at essential businesses will not be required to show any documentation of their employment as they travel to and from their jobs. Those employed outside of Buncombe will also be allowed to go to work.
- The county is not setting up checkpoints or roadblocks.
- Following Buncombe County’s declaration, Haywood County issued its own stay-home order to go into effect at 5 p.m. March 26. The declaration is valid through Thursday, April 16, making its duration a week longer than that of Buncombe’s mandate.
- After previously restricting visitors to its gardens and grounds on March 18, the Biltmore Estate announced that it would close entirely at 5 p.m. on March 26 and remain closed until further notice. “In this unprecedented and unsettling time, we must make unprecedented decisions,” said Bill Cecil Jr., president and CEO of The Biltmore Co.
- Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, using her recently granted emergency powers for the first time, relaxed city regulations on food truck locations and restaurant signage. According to a city press release, the move aimed “to increase access to safe dining options during the course of this COVID-19 public health emergency.”
To review other important points of the order, click here.
In a briefing on March 31, Governor Roy Cooper signed an executive order that prohibits utilities from disconnecting customers who are unable to pay for the next 60 days. Under the order, electric, gas, water and wastewater services can not be shut off. The order directs utilities to give residential customers at least six months to pay outstanding bills and prohibits them from collecting fees, penalties or interest for late payment.
While the order is legally binding for utility companies, the governor also included provisions that “urge” telecommunications companies including phone, cable and internet services to follow the same rules.
“Additionally, the order encourages banks not to charge customers for overdraft fees, late fees and other penalties,” the press release said. “Landlords are strongly encouraged in the Order to follow the spirit of Chief Justice Cheri Beasley’s Order and delay any evictions that are already entered in the court system.”
FAQs for Housing during Coronavirus (provided by Pisgah Legal)
To learn more about your rights if you are concerned about not being able to pay your rent, call Pisgah Legal Services at (828) 253-0406.
Can rent be deferred during the COVID-19 pandemic?
At this time, landlords can still require that rent be paid each month, even if you have had to stop working because of business closures or shelter in place orders. There may be some relief available through local agencies such as Eblen Charities or the Salvation Army. If you are worried that you will not be able to pay your rent because of a recent job loss, you should contact your landlord as soon as possible. Your landlord may be willing to defer some of your rent or set up a payment plan.
What happens if I can’t pay my rent? Can I still be evicted during the COVID-19 pandemic?
At this time, North Carolina courthouses are still open to accept new filings and hear some select cases. However, the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court has ordered that almost all nonemergency court cases be postponed until at least April 17. That means that your landlord could still go to the courthouse and file an eviction against you. However, your court hearing will not be scheduled until after the postponement period has ended.
I thought the court was closed, why did I get served with a summary ejectment?
Though your hearing date will be delayed, you may still be served with summary ejectment or eviction papers by the Sheriff.
If you are served with eviction papers, please contact Pisgah Legal Services right away. Even though your court hearing will be delayed, you have the same rights and defenses you may otherwise have under North Carolina law.
My landlord locked me out without filing for eviction, what do I do?
Call law enforcement immediately, then call Pisgah Legal Services. Even if you are behind on your rent, your landlord must still give you proper notice, file for an eviction in court, and be granted possession of the unit before you can be removed. If your landlord does anything to force you to leave your unit (changing the locks, turning off the water or electricity, etc.) without going through the court process, that is an unlawful “self-help” eviction and you should call local law enforcement immediately. Pisgah Legal Services may also be able to help get you back into your unit.
My case is pending appeal to the District Court, how do I pay my rent bond each month?
At this time, the courthouse and clerk’s offices are still open to accept filings and other payments. If you currently pay a rent bond each month, you can pay that rent bond in the clerk’s office as you normally would. Some clerk’s offices will also accept payment by mail if you are paying with a certified check. Be sure to call your county’s civil clerk’s office ahead of time to ensure they will accept payment for your rent bond by mail.
I live in subsidized housing, am I protected if I can’t pay my rent?
If you live in subsidized housing, you should report any change in income to your landlord right away. Because your rent is based on your income, you are obligated to tell your landlord any time your income changes, either up or down. If you lose your job due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you should notify your landlord immediately and ask that your rent be recalculated.
At this time, there is not a federal moratorium on evictions in public housing.
I have already been evicted, can the Sheriff lock me out?
At this time, the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court has issued an order stating,
“I order that all pleadings, motions, notices, and other documents and papers that were or are due to be filed in any county of this state on or after 16 March 2020 and before the close of business on 17 April 2020 in civil actions, criminal actions, estates, and special proceedings shall be deemed to be timely filed if they are filed before the close of business on 17 April 2020.” This order extends the deadline for filing summary ejectment appeals or other filings until April 17, 2020. Many clerk’s offices have interpreted that order to mean that landlords cannot apply for writs of possession during this time, unless they were eligible to apply for the writ before March 16, 2020.
If you have questions about how to file an appeal or your specific legal issue, please contact Pisgah Legal Services.
What about my utility bills?
Duke Energy has currently put a moratorium on electricity shut offs. Additionally, some water utility companies have done the same. Duke Energy is also waiving late payment, return payment, and other fees for its customers. If you are having trouble paying your utility bills, you should contact your utility provider immediately. You may also be eligible for assistance through your local Department of Social Services and other agencies.
- On March 25, The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina awarded $286,800 in emergency grants to WNC nonprofits responding to COVID-19. A total of 38 organizations, including BeLoved Asheville, the Vecinos Farmworker Health Program and Western Carolina Rescue Ministries, received up to $10,000 in funding each.
- New Belgium Brewing has established a relief fund for laid-off and furloughed employees of restaurants, bars, nightclubs, music halls and stadiums in its main markets of Asheville and Fort Collins, Colo. The company has donated $50,000 and will match an additional $50,000 of community contributions; sidelined service workers can apply for grants of $350.
- The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association launched a relief fund to provide cash support for restaurant and hotel employees experiencing financial difficulty as the industry cuts back on staffing due to COVID-19. Qualified applicants can apply for up for $500 in direct assistance to help with immediate expenses.
As of late March 25, the U.S. government considers the entire state of North Carolina to be under a major disaster due to COVID-19. Mike Sprayberry, the state’s director of emergency management, shared the news during a March 26 press briefing.
Both state and local governments, Sprayberry explained, will now be able to seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for up to 75% of their expenses related to COVID-19 response.
He noted that federal disaster unemployment assistance, crisis counseling, disaster case management and additional assistance from the Small Business Administration remain under review but could be approved as the situation changes.
The rapid relief fund approved on March 24 by the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners is now open for business. Tim Love, the county’s director of intergovernmental relations, announced during a March 27 press conference that OneBuncombe.org was available online to accept community donations to and requests for assistance from the One Buncombe Fund.
Love said the fund, overseen by a seven-member board of directors with representatives from the government, business, banking and philanthropic communities, would begin disbursing money next week.
Individuals can apply for direct assistance grants to cover needs such as rent and utilities, while businesses can apply for low-interest loans of up to $10,000 to serve as “bridge” financing until federal and state resources become available.
Kit Cramer, president and CEO of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and chair of the new fund, said its balance currently sat at just over $500,000.
The third disbursement from the federal Strategic National Stockpile of medical personal protective equipment that was supposed to arrive on March 30 and 31 has not yet found their way into the hands of local health care workers.
North Carolina has requested “half a million” each of N-95 masks, procedure masks, gowns, gloves, face shields and coveralls, Sprayberry said.
The Strategic National Stockpile — an approximately $8 billion trove of medical supplies, including critical items such as masks and gowns, overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — is meant to help local governments stay equipped during public health emergencies.
During a press question and answer session on April 1, Tove said he wasn’t aware of any deliveries from the stockpile within Buncombe County.
Less than a third of the requested gloves, and less than 1% of the requested coveralls, have been received.
Closing schools and curtailing public services has put a strain on many in our community, especially those living at or below the poverty line. Hands On Asheville has provided the following links of urgent volunteer needs in our community:
Opportunities are updated on the Hands On Asheville website daily, please check out all COVID-19 volunteer opportunities here. If you are looking to support in-kind donations needs, please click here.
Before you even begin thinking about volunteering, ask yourself – Am I well enough to volunteer? Please click this link to connect with some health and safety guidelines when it comes to volunteering.