MOORHEAD — When a local property management company handed eviction papers to Lacey Chase on Friday, March 20, Clay County Sheriff Mark Empting stepped in, saying deputies will not be evicting anyone during the coronavirus pandemic.

“At this point, we are not going to remove the family from the residence nor will we be assisting the management company in doing so,” Empting said. “We will not be doing any evictions during this pandemic, and courts have stopped issuing eviction notices and hearings.”

Empting said he learned of the attempted eviction from an email sent by a concerned citizen. Jamaal Abegaz, with the Red River Valley Democrat Socialists of America housing working group, said he was the one who alerted the sheriff and called the attempt to evict “despicable."

The eviction freeze is echoed in Cass County, North Dakota, where courts have discontinued all eviction hearings for the foreseeable future, according to the Cass County Sheriff's Office.

Michelle Rydz, executive director of the High Plains Fair Housing Center in Grand Forks, has asked North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum to ban evictions during the pandemic. "Eviction moratoriums are a much-needed response to the emergency of the moment," Rydz said in a letter to the editor in The Forum.

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With a growing number of Americans out of work because of the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has suspended evictions from public housing it owns through April.

Regarding a possible halt of evictions in North Dakota, Burgum said Wednesday, March 18, during a news conference: "We're certainly taking a look at that, and individual apartment owners are going to have to review their own policies."

At a news conference Friday, Burgum added: "I know that's been discussed in meetings I've been in, but I don't think we'll be announcing anything today."

The Clay County sheriff's promise of no evictions came as a surprise to Chase, the woman who was set for the court-ordered eviction.

“It’s a blessing, not for what is happening around us, but it gave me peace of mind a little longer. It’s something we all need to hear,” she said.

Chase is a 32-year-old mother of three and manages a local restaurant. She said constant problems, including mold inside her apartment in the 900 block of 19th Street South in Moorhead, weren’t getting fixed, so she stopped paying rent last year while the apartment complex was managed by 360 Properties.

The complex is now managed by Day to Day Property Management, said Joseph T. Day, who is listed as the company’s registered agent by the North Dakota Secretary of State's Office.

On Friday morning, "they put this paper on my door that we were to vacate the unit,” Chase said. “And I refused to.”

The problems she said she has inside the apartment include broken water pipes, which created mold making her children and herself sick last year.

Day refuted Chase’s claims, saying she hasn’t paid rent since April 2019. “We had evidence that all the things she was saying about mold was untrue. Put that in the paper. We followed the law, and she had plenty of time to find a place before this virus thing came down,” Day said.

A bill introduced in the Minnesota Legislature this week would prevent rental property owners from filing for eviction for 30 days in places where public health emergencies have been declared. Late fees on unpaid rent, meanwhile, could not be charged for 60 days.

In Cass County, sheriff's office Lt. Joel Stading said eviction hearings have been discontinued. His office has one or two writs of special execution, or eviction notices, leftover, Stading said, but deputies will first contact landlords and/or attorneys involved to determine the status of the tenants.

“My opinion is that we’re not going to be evicting anybody, and I don’t think we’re going to be in a huge rush to remove anybody,” Stading said.

Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner agreed, but added that his office follows through with court orders. "We just follow what the court wants us to do," Jahner said. "But if they started ordering a bunch of evictions, we would want to look at that at this time. We have many other issues we have to focus our resources on right now."

Chase said she recently drove her children to Washington and to Wisconsin to be looked after by family so she could focus on what she will do next.

“All I am trying to do is provide a home for my kids. All of us had bronchitis. I had walking pneumonia, and I can only assume it was because of the mold. We went with no heat all winter using the tiniest heater because it would trip the breaker if it was too big," she said.

“This is my home, and I don’t have any other place to go.”

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