COVID-19 Operations: Frequently Asked Questions

Is Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services open during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?

Yes. Our office is open and operating, however we are following the recommendations of Government and Public Health Officials. For your safety and ours, we are only meeting with clients by a scheduled telephone appointment. If you are a current client of Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services and have a question about your case, you may call our office (843-853-6456) or email your question to your attorney.

I am not a current client, but I would like to become a client. How can I apply?

Please visit the Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services homepage (www.charlestonprobono.org) and follow the “Request Legal Help” link to our online intake. If you are unable to access the internet, please call our office (843-853-6456) and we will make arrangements to take your information by telephone. If you are unable to speak directly with a staff member, please leave a voicemail with your name and a good telephone number to reach you.

I have submitted an application, when can I expect to receive a call?

During self-isolation we are working to keep the lines of communication open. It is our goal to contact every applicant within 2 business days to begin screening for client eligibility. If you applied and have not been contacted within 4 business days, please call our office (843-853-6456) to follow up. We appreciate your patience as we are operating remotely, and without the assistance of volunteers during this time.

I have a case pending in a County or State Court, what is going to happen?

As of March 18, 2020, most cases are continued (postponed) until after May 1, 2020. In an effort to protect the public health, cases that are not designated emergencies or otherwise approved for hearing by the Chief Administrative Judge, have been postponed. If you had a hearing scheduled during this time, you will receive a new hearing notice in the mail once the matter (hearing) is rescheduled. Please be patient and keep yourself informed by following notices and recommendations of official government and health agencies.

I have an emergency; my Landlord has threatened to evict me. What should I do?

The Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court has issued the following Order:

“Pursuant to provisions of Article V, Section 4 of the South Carolina Constitution,

IT IS ORDERED that all evictions currently ordered and scheduled statewide from March 17, 2020, through March 31, 2020, shall be rescheduled for a date not earlier than May 1, 2020.  However, case-by-case exceptions for evictions may be made for matters that involve essential services and/or harm to person or property.”

Updated April 1, 2020
Order 2020-03-18-01 specifies that the Moratorium on Foreclosures Ordered on March 17, 2019, is superseded and extended until further Order of the Court and all evictions currently ordered and scheduled statewide shall be rescheduled for a date not earlier than May 1, 2020. “The court shall not accept applications for ejectment, schedule hearings, issue writs or warrants of ejectment, or proceed in any other manner regarding evictions until directed by subsequent order by the Chief Justice. However, case-by-case exceptions for evictions may be made for matters that involve essential services and/or harm to person or property.”

Please understand that this is a challenging time for everyone and that temporary suspension of eviction hearings does not waive the obligations of Landlords and Tenants stated in your Lease Agreement or SC Residential Landlord Tenant Act.  For more information about South Carolina Courts, please visit www.sccourts.org.

I have an emergency; my Landlord has turned my utilities off. What are my rights?

If your Landlord has excluded you from your leased dwelling by changing the locks or similar, or if your Landlord has caused the interruption of your utilities, you should deliver a written letter to your Landlord stating the breach and noticing intention to seek relief with the court.

If your utilities have been interrupted, contact your utility company and seek to have services restored. When you contact your utility company, have your Lease Agreement, service address and meter information written and ready to share with the operator.

Keep copies of all correspondence with your records. Use certified mail, return receipt requested, and save a copy of the tracking number. Secure alternative shelter and keep receipts for related expenses. For more information, see S.C. Code of Laws Section 27-40-660 by visiting https://www.scstatehouse.gov/code/t27c040.php

Dominion Energy Coronavirus Update:

https://www.dominionenergy.com/company/coronavirus

Charleston Water System Coronavirus Update:

https://www.charlestonwater.com/AlertCenter.aspx?AID=Coronavirus-COVID19-Update-16

I have an emergency; the opposing party is not following a Family Court Order.

At this time the Charleston County Family Court is only hearing DSS Emergency Protective Custody, Juvenile Detentions, Bench Warrants, Emergency Petitions for Orders of Protection from Domestic Abuse, and other matters with the approval of the Chief Administrative Judge.

If your matter is not included on that list, it is unlikely that you will have a hearing before May 1, 2020. Please continue to follow your existing Order as closely as possible and keep good records. Existing clients may contact our office to schedule a follow on appointment for additional guidance. If you are not an existing client, please follow the instructions above in seeking to become a client.

I have an emergency; I am an hourly worker with no income due to isolation at this time.

Please dial 2-1-1 from your mobile phone or visit www.211.org to find out what Service Providers are offering in your area.  Additionally, if your work is affected by COVID-19, you can apply for Unemployment Insurance. For more information visit: https://dew.sc.gov/individuals/apply-for-benefits

What should I be doing right now?

Follow the recommendations of your public health officials and maintain good health practices. This is a team effort and we are committed to providing the best services we can.

If you have questions about these, or any other matters, please call us at 843-853-6456.

UPDATED 3/20/2020

I live in a hotel or motel as an extended occupant and I cannot afford to pay my weekly rent. Can I be ousted from the premises during the moratorium on evictions?

The Supreme Court Ordered suspension of filing and issuing of all writs or warrants of ejectment. Occupants of extended stay hotels are being told by hotel management that they do not fall within the protections of this Moratorium and will be excluded for nonpayment because the occupants are not tenants within the meaning of the SC Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. The Landlord and Tenant Act specifies exclusion of occupancies that are subject to transient accommodations tax, ejectments of these occupants fall within a different Title and are not afforded the protections of tenancy. If the occupant has resided for fewer than 90 days in the extended stay hotel, then the occupancy is considered transient and the exclusion applies.

In short: Extended stay hotels are not included in the Moratorium on Evictions (S.C. Supreme Court Order 2020-03-18-01). If you are displaced from your occupancy in a hotel, you should contact your local safety net service providers by calling 2-1-1 or visiting 211.org.

UPDATED 3/24/2020

I have a Child Custody Order that specifies visitation with a person in a different household. Am I violating my Custody Order if I do not allow Ordered visitation to take place?

Yes, you would be in violation of the Order. However, we do not know how the Courts will resolve these types of visitation issues and there is no SC case law precedent for visitation during a pandemic. The health of your children should be your highest concern. Encourage discussion with the visiting party. Seek the help of a mediator if you are needing help with conflict resolution. If you are able to reach an agreement for temporary modification of visitation, put your agreement in writing.If you are intending to deny visitation over the other party’s objection, please communicate the reasons for denial in writing in advance to the other party along with a written offer of alternative visitation and make-up visitation. Consider your motivations and do not use this situation as a means of punishing the other party or your children.If you, the other party, or the children, are showing symptoms or have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone who is showing symptoms or has tested positive for COVID-19, do not send the children for visitation. Keep the other party informed; use written communication and give reasonable updates. Follow the advice of medical professionals and do not take unnecessary risks.

Attorney Greg Forman has posted an informative blog entry on his website that may help parents evaluate their own circumstances and risk. The article may be found here: https://www.gregoryforman.com/blog/2020/03/visitation-denial-in-the-covid-19-era/

Update 4/2/2020: Governor McMaster stated in his address on March 31, 2020 that his Safer at Home Order does not restrict custodial parties from exchanging children.

UPDATED 3/26/2020

My lease term is over and I cannot seek other housing and hire moving services due to Covid-19 closures. What should I do?

Send written communication to your landlord, do not rely on a phone call. Clearly explain that a National Emergency has been declared and there are several government orders in place that are making it impossible for you to relocate at this time. Keep a copy of all communications for your records and use a method of tracking (USPS Certified Mail with Return Receipt, Email read receipts such as Boomerang, FAX with confirmation) the communication. Save the tracking information for your records.

Example:

Dear Landlord,

 My lease ends on March 31, 2020. During the month of March a National State of Emergency was declared, South Carolina declared a State of Emergency, and our municipality placed additional restrictions on non-essential business to limit the spread of Covid-19. While I do intend to relocate when the restrictions lift, I am unable to find new housing or hire movers to relocate because of the ordered restrictions. I will continue to pay rent and follow the terms of the lease while I follow the instructions of my public officials and remain in place. I am asking you to agree to extend my lease on a month-to-month basis under the existing terms, until such time as relocation becomes a possibility.

 Sincerely,

Tenant

Apply for legal services as soon as possible by visiting our homepage, www.charlestonprobono.org

I am unable to pay rent due to reduced employment or unemployment because of Covid-19. What do I do?

Write to your Landlord and explain the situation as soon as you become aware of it. Make sure to clearly state that your employment was impacted by Covid-19 and the public health measures implemented by our elected officials. Ask, in writing, for a reasonable modification of your lease or a written repayment plan. Keep a copy of all communications and tracking information, it is important that you keep records of evidence to show your diligence with your tenancy.

Find and apply for benefits and resources that may be available to you by contacting 211 at 211.org or by calling 2-1-1 from a mobile phone. When applying for forbearance of debts, financial assistance or resources, make it clear that your situation is directly related to Covid-19.

Apply for legal services as soon as possible by visiting our homepage, www.charlestonprobono.org

 

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