Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Clayton County Sheriff’s Lt. Brian Crisp and Sgt. Donald Tumlin look over pending eviction papers.
Tenants facing evictions after Friday will get a reprieve until Jan. 3, as the Clayton County Sheriff's Office continues a decades-long tradition of halting dispossession hearings for the holidays.
In recent years, sheriff's deputies have handled about 400 evictions a year, a marked increase from the 1980s, said Lt. Brian Crisp.
"It was different in the 80s," he said. "We may have had one eviction put off during the holidays. Lately, it's been a bigger issue because of the sheer volume we receive."
Because of the long process involved in getting to the point of eviction, tenants are aware that being put out of their rental property is imminent, said Sgt. Donald Tumlin.
"It just gives people facing evictions a break during the holidays," he said.
Crisp said Sheriff Kem Kimbrough and his predecessors consider the suspension a way to help out families. "Who wants to be responsible for setting a mother and her kids out two weeks before Christmas? Or the day before Christmas?" said Crisp. "The sheriff doesn't want to be seen as causing any more hardship on families at the holidays."
Property owners apply for evictions, legally termed "dispossessory proceedings," in Clayton County Magistrate Court. Deputies serve a writ of dispossession on tenants by tacking the notice on the door, and by mailing it, said Tumlin. Tenants have seven days to respond, and are given a court date.
Eviction hearings are held in Magistrate Court every Monday at 8:30 a.m. Chief Magistrate Daphne Walker said the number of evictions has continued to increase during this bad economy. "The courtroom is packed for every eviction hearing," she said.
Once the magistrate issues the writ of dispossession, deputies delay service until the property owner schedules an eviction date.
"As we get the dates in, that's where we start with the schedule," said Tumlin. "We do them all on Wednesdays."
Tumlin said there are three eviction companies that contract with owners to facilitate the vacating of property. Deputies stand by in case of violence, and to ensure the tenant's possessions are not illegally removed. But most tenants move out on their own before the eviction date.
"I'd say 50-60 percent of people are already gone," said Tumlin. "At that point, the deputies walk through and make sure all the personal property is gone."
Crisp said most property owners are aware of the eviction suspension, so they know what to expect this time of year. Some tenants, too, know to expect a roof over their heads at Christmas and into the new year.
"We've already had a woman calling about it," said Crisp. "We told her that, yes, we are holding off on evictions again this year."