Today we're going to housing court. South Carolina is in the midst of an eviction crisis, and special dockets within local courts have been set up to hear case after case of residential evictions. We'll listen in on some high-stakes, high-stress cases.

On the second half of the episode, our guest is Charlotte Martin, a renter and organizer with the South Carolina Housing Justice Network. We're talking about how tenants can build power and protect each other's rights.

Music credits: A Spot on the Hill and Daft Hartley.

For more information about the S.C. Housing Justice Network, visit ⁠⁠. To write your lawmaker in support of Eviction Right to Counsel, visit ⁠⁠.


PAUL BOWERS: It's a Thursday afternoon, I'm in Goose Creek, South Carolina and I'm here to visit Housing Court. It's at the end of a pretty run -down strip mall. It's got a dollar store, a storefront church, and if you go all the way down to the end of the strip mall, go around the corner, Berkeley County Summary Court. So we're gonna go inside and we're gonna see how it works.

From the ACLU of South Carolina, this is While I Breathe, episode three. I'm your host, Paul Bowers.

JACE WOODRUM: And I'm your other host, Jace Woodrum. As part of our ongoing series on housing justice in the eviction capital of the United States, today we're going to housing court. Later in the show, we'll talk to a tenant organizer with the South Carolina Housing Justice Network about how and why her organization is building tenant power across the state.

Paul, set us up for the first part of the show. What is housing court?

BOWERS: A housing court is a special docket within a local court system just for handling residential eviction cases. The way this typically plays out is that a judge comes into the courtroom and hears eviction cases back to back to back for several hours, multiple days out of the month. In a typical case, you'll have a tenant and their attorney on one side and the landlord and their attorney on the other. And in order to make this work, pro bono attorneys from nonprofit groups show up to offer their services free of charge to the tenants.

So if I'm a tenant and I'm facing eviction from my home, I can show up to court that day, consult with an attorney, and in theory, get a fair trial.

WOODRUM: Is this a new concept for South Carolina?

BOWERS: So the story of housing courts in South Carolina goes back to 2016 when a Princeton Eviction Lab report found that North Charleston had the highest eviction rate per capita of any large city in the United States. That year, there was one eviction filed for every six rental housing units in the city of North Charleston.

Now I live in North Charleston. I remember this happening. I remember the headlines and needless to say that report was a wake up call. So in response to the eviction crisis in 2019, the state Supreme court ordered the creation of a pilot housing court program in Charleston County. And that pilot program has expanded since then. It now exists in five different magistrate courts around the county, including three just in North Charleston.

WOODRUM: Have these housing courts even worked?

BOWERS: So according to some recent reporting in the Post and Courier, the pilot program has been pretty successful by its own measurements. One measure of success is keeping people in their homes. So we know that in 95% of the hearings held in Charleston County housing courts, a tenant was able to stay in their home. And we'll get into the particulars of how that works in a minute, but it's a pretty stunning result. And as a result of that, the state Supreme Court turned around and ordered the expansion of that pilot program into other counties.

WOODRUM: Yeah, 95 % seems like a pretty big success. And I think what's interesting about housing court is that it gives us a picture of how things could change in our state if we guaranteed Eviction Right to Counsel.

If you recall from our last episode, Eviction Right to Counsel is the idea that the state should provide you with an attorney when you are facing eviction in the same way that the state provides you an attorney if you are facing criminal charges. So when we look at housing court, while the current arrangement depends on volunteers and nonprofit money, we are getting a glimpse of how justice could be served statewide and with public funding.

BOWERS: And that's where we'll pick up the story. Let's go to housing court, Jace.

So I'm at Berkley County Housing Court at the end of that strip mall in Goose Creek. Out in the lobby, landlords, property managers, and their attorneys are waiting for their eviction cases to come up. I pass through there into a back room where the tenants are gathered. The back room is set up like a courtroom. No windows, plain walls, a few rows of benches, and a stand at the front. But there's no judge in here.

Instead, I see some extremely busy pro bono attorneys zipping back and forth from the stand to the benches, checking people in and hearing about their cases. The attorneys are asking questions about the rent due, how and if tenants were notified about their evictions, and what agreements they'd be willing to enter with the landlord to stay in their home. There's a woman carrying an infant, and while she's waiting, she's striking up conversation with a man in an orange shirt who has a young son with him. People are obviously nervous, but they're looking out for each other, keeping each other's kids entertained while they fill out paperwork. Generally just being good neighbors, even though they're strangers.

I was able to get an interview with two of the attorneys, although not during the session, obviously. They told me this setup and the stories I was about to hear were pretty typical for a day in housing court.

TAYLOR RUMBLE: My name is Taylor Rumble. I'm an attorney fellow with Equal Justice Works. I work in the housing justice program.

MARY VOSBURGH: My name is Mary Vosburgh. I am a senior staff attorney here at Charleston Legal Access, and I work in a variety of different issues, and I focus on housing a lot as well.

BOWERS: Are there any stories you could share just about times you represented a client and they were able to keep their home?

RUMBLE: Yeah, definitely. So I had an elderly client who had lived at the property for several years without issue, and then the property sold and there was a new landlord. And the landlord did not communicate how the tenant was supposed to pay the rent. So the tenant tried to pay the rent to the old landlord and the old landlord said, I'm not your landlord anymore. You've got to pay the new person. I don't know how you're supposed to do it. You'll get something from the new landlord. So the tenant waited to get something from the new landlord and nothing came. I went to court with the tenant. I represented her and the new landlord, you know, through testimony, shared that he would be able to get a much, much higher rate for this house than what he was charging her because she was in a lease.

So she had that legal agreement that until a certain date, her rent was going to stay the same, but he knew if she didn't pay, he could evict her for non -payment. And then he would make a lot more money from the next tenant. However, I was able to demonstrate to the judge that she was prevented from paying and that this was not, you know, your typical non-payment case that she was, she was prevented from paying as a way for this landlord to evict her and rent it much higher to somebody else.

So the judge dismissed the action and ruled in our favor and prevented the landlord from filing for the same thing again. And the tenant is still living there. I believe they're getting along great still, last I heard.

BOWERS: I was wondering if you could speak to the stakes for your clients. Are a lot of your clients facing actual homelessness or are they facing the prospect of being on the streets or moving in with family? Or what sort of living situations are you encountering?

VOSBURGH: Yeah, so they are absolutely facing true homelessness. Being out on the street, if they could have moved in with friends or family or just simply stayed somewhere else, they typically would have just done that. If they were able to just move to a different apartment, they would have done that rather than have to come to court and face this eviction in this very stressful process. In this tri-county area, rental rates are really hard, which is the first big barrier, but definitely not the only barrier.

In addition to those high rental rates, the actual cost of moving is so much more than anybody predicts it to be. I think we've all had those times where we've moved and just the bill has been so much higher. You're missing work, you're renting a truck, you're buying boxes and, you know, papers, and to do that all in such a rush time, too, makes it that much harder.

And then having to pay a new deposit is another big barrier. We see tenants go to extended stay hotels and put their things in storage, which is a short-term solution, but they really need to find somewhere else because those rates are quickly adding up and just further depleting their funds.

We see a lot of people with generational poverty. It's very common for them to say, you know, I can't stay with my mom. My mom is on section eight. She could lose her voucher if I move in there.

And then a lot of our clients are families, which just, you know, you have somebody, the head of the household who is trying to work, but maybe doesn't have transportation. So they need to be on their bus routes that they can get to work. But at the same time, they're also thinking of their kids who are in school and it's the middle of the year and they take the bus to school and he needs to, you know, make sure he or she needs to make sure that those kids are getting to school. He doesn't want to pull them out. You know, to be in a stressful moving situation and then have new teachers, new friends, new curriculum. So it's more complicated than just simply finding a couch to crash on. You may need to be in your school district, near the jobs, near the bus line. It's very, very, very difficult for people to just move or go stay somewhere else.

BOWERS: In the tenants' waiting room at housing court, once Taylor and Mary have an understanding of their clients' cases, they start stepping out into the lobby, talking to the landlords and their attorneys. They're hashing out deals, where the tenant agrees to pay a certain amount or abide by a certain rule, and in exchange the landlord agrees not to evict. There's a little back and forth, but generally people are pretty agreeable here.

Finally, the door to the actual courtroom opens up, and we file inside. Judge Rad Deaton is presiding today. There are a lot of cases, and this court is nothing if not efficient. Here's a pretty typical case where a tenant is behind on rent and the attorneys have negotiated an agreement with the landlord out in the lobby. (Quick note, this is an audio recording provided by the court, but I've cut out the names of the tenants to preserve their privacy.)

HON. RAD DEATON: It was served. Everybody's present. Y 'all have an agreement?

ATTORNEY 1: Yes. We are agreeing to a two-week continuance due to some substantial repair needs to the property as well as some unpaid rent, and we're requesting ... [audio indistinct, infant crying] a two-week continuance for repairs to be made.

DEATON: So you want a continuance as well?

ATTORNEY 2: Yes sir.

DEATON: Alright. I don't have a problem with it if the landlord and the tenant degree. We'll continue it for two weeks, and hopefully y 'all can get it worked out by then. Alright?

ATTORNEY 1: Thank you your honor.

DEATON: Alright.

BOWERS: And that was it. A case can be as quick and simple as that once it enters the courtroom. The landlord agreed to make repairs to the property and grant a two-week continuance, after which the tenant would be expected to pay the rent. In the meantime, the tenant stays in her home. Here's another case where a tenant is behind on rent.

ATTORNEY: This tenant will pay the amount that is due in owed which is $4,060.16. So that is 40, 60, and 16 cents, in certified funds, which is cashier's check or money order, by close of business, that's 5 p .m. on the 25th of this month.

DEATON: All right, well good luck to you. I'm gonna approve the agreement. $4,060.16 certified funds, cash or check or money order by January 25th, 2024, at 5 p.m., or voluntarily vacate and they can get the writ next day if you don't do that otherwise the case will be dismissed.

BOWERS: Here's a case where the tenant could not appear in person but called in via speakerphone. That in itself was a little unusual but the other thing that stood out to me was the amount of rent owed. It was a lot.

DEATON: So $10,607 by five o 'clock p.m. So you got less — two hours and, two hours and 19 minutes to get $10,607 to — in certified funds. That means a cashier's check or a money order. And if not, they're gonna come here tomorrow and get a writ of ejectment. Do you understand that?

TENANT: Yes sir, I do.

DEATON: And that means I'm not gonna have any further hearings. I just wanna make sure you understand what you're doing. Okay? Okay. All right. Well, I'll approve the agreement. Hopefully you all have the 10 ,006 or seven cashier's check or money order in hand because you know, everything closes.

TENANT: It's in my hand right now.

DEATON: Perfect. Sounds good. Thank you so much, ma'am. All right. Good luck to you. Yes, ma 'am.

ATTORNEY: I'm hanging up now, OK? Thank you, Ms. —.

DEATON: Thank you, Ms. —. Thank you. Bye.

ATTORNEY: Judge, like I said, I was happy about that one. I was surprised.

DEATON: That's the most I've ever heard anybody pay in a day.

ATTORNEY: I was surprised.

DEATON: Good for them, though. I agree. It's one of those — good for everybody. Good for the landlord, good for the tenant.

BOWERS: Hold up. Rewind. Play that last part again.

DEATON: Good for everybody. Good for the landlord, good for the tenant.

ATTORNEY: I was shocked.

BOWERS: Yeah, you heard that right. Good for the landlord, good for the tenant. One of the myths I want to bust on this podcast is that expanding rights for tenants will harm the bottom line of landlords. Again and again as I sat in court, I saw parties coming to mutual agreements where the tenant stays housed and the landlord gets their money. I can't say it better than Judge Deaton.

After I've sat through several cases in housing court, the tenant in the orange shirt enters the courtroom with his kid. And the kid, being a kid, runs down the length of the bench and back. Mary, the pro bono attorney, leans in and whispers to him. She explains that the man up there with the hammer is a judge, and if it gets too loud in here, he'll have to swing it and make it go boom, boom, boom. She asks him to be as quiet as he can, and he starts to settle down a little bit. Finally, his dad's case is called, and he rises to address the judge. The landlord rises from the other side of the room.

DEATON: Y'all have an agreement?

ATTORNEY: We do, judge.

DEATON: OK. Tell me what the agreement is.

ATTORNEY: The parties have agreed that Mr. — will pay the entire amount that is due and owed, which is $4,383.31, that's 43 83 and 31 cents, by close of business which is 6 p.m. on the 31st of this month.

BOWERS: The rest of the agreement is pretty standard. The tenant and his son get to stay in the home, and he has the option to vacate the premises.

DEATON: Anybody promise you anything other that that agreement to get you to enter into that agreement today.

TENANT: No sir.

DEATON: You know what you're doing?

TENANT: Yes sir.

DEATON: Satisfied with your lawyer?

TENANT: Yes sir.

DEATON: Alright, I'll approve it, and good luck to y 'all. Hopefully you get that done, sir.

TENANT: Alright, thank you.

ATTORNEY: Judge, I have another case ...

BOWERS: Afterward, I walk out to the parking lot and catch up with the tenant in the orange shirt. He tells me his name is Robert. He drives a white work van.

Do you mind if I record you?

ROBERT: No, I don't mind. It's messed up that these apartments are 20 years old and are charging $1,700 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.

BOWERS: How much is it?

ROBERT: $1,700.

BOWERS: That's where you live? It's $1 ,700 for two bedrooms?

ROBERT: It's $1 ,700 for a two -bedroom apartment.

BOWERS: And that's to live in Goose Creek?

ROBERT: Yeah. Yeah.

BOWERS: It used to be that was the affordable part of the tri-county area. Now, not so much.

ROBERT: Yeah, it's ridiculous.

BOWERS: What brought you here today? You were facing eviction?

ROBERT: Yes, sir. I was facing eviction. And it's you and your son?

ROBERT: Just me and my son. You want to say how old you are? ... Say four. Say no, I ain't gonna talk. I'm gonna be shy.

BOWERS: Are you are you a single parent?

ROBERT: Single parent.

BOWERS: And so you're behind on rent today. You had an eviction notice, but you're able to stay in the apartment for now. When you came to court today, were you expecting to have a lawyer there, or did you think you were going to be on your own with this?

ROBERT: I figured I was probably gonna be on my own.

BOWERS: Yeah. So you were surprised when Mary showed up and said —

ROBERT: There was actually some help here, so...

BOWERS: Yeah. So I guess the outcome is you still owe the back rent. You've gotta catch up by the end of the month.

ROBERT: I got to pay by the end of the month.

BOWERS: Where does that leave you? Do you think that you'll be able to stay beyond that?

ROBERT: Yeah, I just gotta get caught back up to where I'm not paying late fees. And paying court fees.

BOWERS: At the root of the problem, you were saying, is the rent.

ROBERT: It's just ridiculous here.

BOWERS: It's too damn high.

ROBERT: I mean how can somebody, really — I mean, because I make pretty good money. And if it wasn't making, I mean if you were working at a $15, $17 an hour job, there's no way that a single person could make it here. Not without the government assistance.

BOWERS: What kind of work do you do?

ROBERT: I do HVAC. I'm a HVAC technician. And I mean, I make good money. I mean, I bring home $1,500 a week — or, before taxes. And I shouldn't have a problem being able to live on my own. Yeah, absolutely. But with rent and, well, the price of everything now — it ain't just rent.

BOWERS: In housing court today, I observed case after case where people like Robert won the right to stay in their homes. That's the ideal outcome here. And that's why housing courts have expanded into other counties like Berkeley since they were first introduced in Charleston County. Housing court works. Around the edges of our housing system in the times when people are most in need of sound legal advice, it works.

But I also saw the limit of what can be accomplished through technical changes and special court dockets. Robert and a lot of people today were in court because they couldn't make rent. So while we fight for a fair day in court for all South Carolina tenants and landlords, we still have a lot of work to do to end the housing and eviction crisis in this state.

Well, Jace, before we move on to the back half of the show, I want to answer some frequently asked questions about housing justice and evictions. I don't know about you, but when I'm talking to my friends or my neighbors about things like housing court and eviction right to counsel, I sometimes am met with skepticism or some amount of confusion and honestly some some pretty fair questions. So I compiled a list of questions that I've heard and ones that I anticipate we'll hear a lot as we take this issue into the state house.

So. Let's give this a try. I've got a few questions here, and we'll try to answer them fairly.

WOODRUM: Let's do it.

BOWERS: One of the most common things I heard, and I heard this when I brought it up to an old friend who's got a family member who owns one property and has had genuine problems with her tenants. So there are cases where tenants are legitimately so destructive to the property that they do need to be evicted. How are we going to protect the rights of the small landlords against tenants who are genuinely creating problems?

WOODRUM: Yeah, I mean, I think the underlying principle here is the same as criminal court cases, right, where people are guaranteed an attorney. The fairer the trial, the more likely we are to see justice served, right? So the landlord still has every right to file an eviction and ultimately the same rights to remove a tenant from that property. What this does is begin to even the playing field and give tenants an advocate as they are facing a really life-altering and oftentimes traumatic life experience.

BOWERS: And what about those, you know, the sort of mom and pop landlords, people who maybe own one property? How is this affecting them? How are we taking their concerns into consideration as we push for changes in landlord-tenant law?

WOODRUM: Yeah, I think it's common for many of us when we hear the word "landlord," we envision like, you know, Ma and Pa Smith and their basement apartment or their carriage house. And that's actually the minority of landlords. Most rental properties are held by these big property management companies. And these big corporations are able to, on the fifth or sixth day of the month, they just mass send out evictions to people.

And so we do want to make sure that, you know, landlords are not overly burdened, but we also need to get real about who landlords are and how they operate.

BOWERS: Another conception that I've run up against is that evictions and the housing crisis seem like problems that are concentrated in the cities and the bigger metro areas. So in South Carolina, we're talking about Greenville, Columbia, Charleston generally, but you know, this is a state with a lot of large rural areas. So when we're talking about landlord-tenant laws, one proposal is, well, let's just focus on those metro areas. Can't we just try to change the laws in the counties around the big cities?

WOODRUM: Yeah. In episode one, you talked to Glynnis from the South Carolina NAACP, and she told you about some data that they have that is really allowing them to see where evictions are being filed. And certainly years and years worth of data has shown us that Greenville and Columbia and Charleston have been hotspots. But when we look at the most recent data and look, we're recording this, what is it? March 2024, late March. Actually the South Carolina counties with the highest eviction rates per capita are Dillon, Cherokee, Dorchester, Marion, and Florence County. So we're not talking about big cities. And that's why continuing with the model that we have now of pockets of housing courts just creates more distance between the haves and the have nots. Renters who live in places with these housing courts have access and renters that don't, such as people who live in Cherokee, can't gain access, and that's why a statewide solution is really important. Because this problem isn't confined just to our cities.

BOWERS: So one last question. Housing court and Eviction Right to Counsel are all well and good, but they don't do anything about the underlying economic realities. We know that rent keeps going up and it goes up faster than wages. Gentrification is driving people out of their homes, and there isn't really a tweak to the court system that is going to fix that. So, what then? What can we do to solve those deeper root problems?

WOODRUM: Yeah, I think it's important that we don't look at these eviction prevention policies as a panacea. We are surrounded by housing injustice in various forms, and eviction prevention policies are really aimed at keeping people in their homes, which decreases homelessness, and we know that we are seeing far too many of our neighbors without a roof over their heads. And so these are important policies, but we shouldn't lose sight of the bigger crisis that we're in, that we have so much housing injustice and that we have to be working on these small steps and continue working until they add up to big changes.

BOWERS: So I think that last question is a good segue into part two of the show. I'm going to be talking with Charlotte Martin, who is a renter in Lexington, South Carolina, and is also involved with tenant organizing via the South Carolina Housing Justice Network. So let's get into it.

Could you tell me your name and where you live?

CHARLOTTE MARTIN: Yes, my name is Charlotte. I use she, her pronouns and I live in Lexington, South Carolina.

BOWERS: And I was wondering if we could start by just talking about your living situation. You're speaking to me now from your apartment, right? Tell me about it. I mean, what is the place where you live like?

MARTIN: So my apartment, I've lived here for about six years, it is a corporately owned property backed by an FHFA mortgage. So the government helped to help the original owner to buy it. And it is a very expensive, we pay literally almost like two grand a month for a two bedroom, two bath space, but there is no space. We don't have a dining room. We have very dated appliances. And it's just not what you would think you get for $2 000 a month.

BOWERS: I mean, it's kind of a cliche by now, but the rent is too damn high, right? I mean, if you told people 10 years ago, that's what $2,000 would get you, it would make no sense, right? Has the rent gone up in the time that you've been there?

MARTIN: Yes. Actually I'm so glad you said that the rent is too damn high. That is our slogan, if you will. And yeah it goes up, so with each lease I can count on it going up at least a hundred dollars if not more. During COVID, like when we signed our lease during the COVID year it was like 85 dollars not 100, but they definitely made that back up because this past lease signing, it was like $140. And you know, that being split two ways, of course, because I have a partner, that's still just a lot of money. Because it's so weird to me to think like, wow, we started out here, somewhere in the $900 range a month. And now we're almost at two grand.

BOWERS: Wow. In your apartment, it's you, your partner, your son, is that who all is there?

MARTIN: Yes, yes, my girlfriend Jordan and my seven-year-old son Brighton.

BOWERS: Tell me about living there with a kid and your need to give him a stable environment.

MARTIN: Yeah, I feel very thankful that I have been able to provide a stable home for Brighton because I was raised by a single mom who really did the best that she could with what she had. And we moved around a lot. So in being a parent now and doing this from my point of view, it is extremely hard. And a lot of what is hard though as well is that because we're in an apartment, some of the simple joys that kids should have, he doesn't have access to. We definitely, of course, he can go outside, but we've got about three feet of grass from here to a gate that is about maybe 20 feet, 20 to 30 feet from a train track. So it's — there's just not a lot of space for him to run around and roam like you should be able to.

BOWERS: And so you're you're in a place where rent is sky high, not a lot of space, not ideal. And then the pandemic happened, and I know a lot of people had problems with their landlords during that time. It was — there was a lot of upheaval, but I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about your experience, just trying to get repairs done or take up concerns that you had with the owner of the property.

MARTIN: Absolutely. Yes. So during the time of COVID, we had a property manager who we had, you know, consistent contact with, and he did mention to me in conversation that he would not be able to, it would not be his decision to provide rent relief if we needed it. So I took matters into my own hands. I wrote emails and sent letters to corporate and asked for what programs were available. And basically my property manager called me and was just basically begging me, don't do that again, like please. If you have any issues, please go through me first.

And things after that, they just got really tense. So we, you know, we would ask for things to be fixed and it would be fixed on their timeline. And, you know, I, I don't blame him. He definitely had a very, very hard job in a very hard time. And it's evident because property management has changed several times. So since then, we've had three different property managers since that time. And like, six or seven total. I don't know that we've had one for more than a year.

BOWERS: At any point along the way, did you feel like you really had meaningful power to push back, or has it always been kind of like you're at their mercy?

MARTIN: Yes, definitely at their mercy. Because even going through, you know, council representatives and stuff, I mean, a corporate company is not going to kneel to a city council representative or any anything like that, and no, I felt very — and also, too, just kind of powerless because there was nobody to speak to. I could talk with one person who had no power and could empathize with me, but that was really about it

BOWERS: Yeah, that seems to be a problem especially with larger apartment complexes and corporate owners that ultimately, you're speaking to some company somewhere else with without a human face to it, right? Like you don't even know who to go to because it's it's kind of this shapeless entity, and it can be really hard to get things fixed that way.

MARTIN: Right. Right. Yeah. And it's on purpose, very much designed so that there's no reprisal for any of their actions, no matter how many people it affects. It shouldn't be like that.

BOWERS: So you're in this place. It's a chore to get things fixed, rent is too damn high as we've established. What keeps you there? Why is it too difficult to move out?

MARTIN: Well, we actually specifically live in this part of town because the school district is extremely well funded. So there are a lot of resources for my son. And so because of that, literally everywhere around here requires, if not just first month and last month, but also a deposit. So those are, you know, three lump sums of a lot of money. And coming up with that is extremely impossible in times like this. I mean, inflation is never ending. And, you know, it's like the cycle of poverty. Once you get in it, there is no helping hand. Nobody's coming to save us, really.

BOWERS: You had this experience of having very little power to address the situation individually. But now you find yourself in this role with the Housing Justice Network. What can you do as a tenant or as an organizer to build power and fight back?

MARTIN: So I am very thankful for being involved with an organization like this. Because what we do is we bring people together to build tenant unions. [train horn] There's that train that I mentioned. We love it. My walls are rattling.

But yeah, we're forming tenant unions because when we are able to connect with each other, neighbor to neighbor, and build community, that empowers people. Whenever you realize that it's not a single struggle. We are all struggling, and we have power in numbers, and a collective voice definitely rings loud when we are able to go up against a corporation and say, this is unacceptable and we are not going to stand for it. That is what the game changer is. That's the difference maker, because really the last thing that they want is for their bottom line to be in jeopardy. So me withholding rent is a drop in the bucket, but there are about 12 buildings in my apartment complex and each of those 12 buildings has about 10 units per se. So just if my one building was to withhold rent just for even one month, that's 20 grand right there.

BOWERS: I think, you know, just following the news, I've seen some pretty dramatic examples of victories from groups like tenant unions in Kansas City that actually make a change and it becomes this mass movement. But it's a little bit of a newer concept here. I mean, when you broach the subject with your neighbors or people you meet through your work, are they skeptical about about building tenant unions here?

MARTIN: Unfortunately, yes. And it's understandable because everyone is afraid of what they don't know. The unknown is scary. But just like with labor organizing, there are so many misconceptions about what it actually is and who it helps. And whenever I — so I work with the Union for Southern Service Workers as well, which is like sector organizing for labor — a lot of people thought that unions were illegal. And I've actually kind of found the same thing in tenant organizing, is that even having conversations about what the possibilities are, people feel like that could be used against them and it could jeopardize their housing. And in some cases, it definitely could. But should that happen, we have some protections as tenants. And I just know that the power that we've seen, especially in Kansas City, things are definitely possible. And the numbers are definitely on our side as far as I mean, we're definitely organizing more now than we have since the '80s.

BOWERS: So if you could wave a wand at the State House and change policy to make things fairer for tenants in the state, what are some things you would do? I mean, what are some policies that would really change the playing field here?

MARTIN: So I definitely am fighting mostly for Eviction Right to Counsel right now because we have no legislation regarding a good cause, so people can be evicted for any reason in South Carolina. I would also definitely ensure that there were more funds being put into organizations that provide resources for people facing eviction or facing any type of poverty, really. And making sure that we are paying a good amount of money for a good amount of service. So, you know, like I said, I'm paying a lot of money for very outdated appliances. There needs to be some kind of standard.

There is a lot of unfairness and no protections for what can be put into a lease. A lease can say pretty much anything it wants. And that's — there's nothing that they can do, a tenant can do about that. So yeah, legislation and protecting what the conditions of the apartment are, but definitely Eviction Right to Counsel. I think Eviction Right to Counsel in South Carolina would lessen the amount of evictions.

Oh, and finally, I would definitely raise the amount that it is for a filing fee for eviction. So I think it's around $40 right now in South Carolina to file for eviction. And that's definitely one of the lowest in the country, which there's no — that doesn't protect us.

BOWERS: Well, Charlotte, thanks so much. If people want to know more about your work, know about their rights as tenants, that kind of thing, where can they find Housing Justice Network information?

Yeah. So I am with South Carolina Housing Justice Network. So it's the acronym, And definitely I would love to hear from people. We have a petition as well right now for evictions to be expunged potentially. So sign our petition, get in touch with us and we'll see what we can do together.

BOWERS: Awesome. Well, thanks, Charlotte.

MARTIN: Thank you.

BOWERS: This has been episode three of While I Breathe, a podcast from the ACLU of South Carolina. Jace mentioned this on the last episode, but one thing we're asking South Carolina listeners to do is write to your state lawmakers and ask them to support a bill guaranteeing eviction right to counsel. You can learn more about that bill and use a form to contact your state house representative by going to That's

Music on today's episode is by Daft Hartley and A Spot on the Hill. If you're enjoying the podcast so far, please tell someone you know. Tell your neighbors, tell your parents, tell your landlord. If you're feeling extra nice, you can leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. The internet is vast and confusing sometimes, but we know that word of mouth and good reviews help us to grow our reach. Thanks for listening, and until next time, while I breathe, I hope.

DEATON: Good for everybody. Good for the landlord, good for the tenant.