Having trouble making rent this month? Here’s how to get help.

In an era marked by a global pandemic, a spike in rent and high inflation, a lot of families have become more vulnerable to eviction.

Duke University law professor Jesse McCoy, whose Civil Justice Clinic represents clients in Durham experiencing eviction and other hardships, advises people to be “solution oriented” and act quickly if they have serious concerns about making ends meet.

“Just don’t put your head in the sand and pray it’s going to work out on its own – because it probably won’t,” McCoy said.

While many resources available during the initial spread of COVID-19 are no longer available, there are still things you can do.

Find resources in your area

Getting help – whether it’s money for rent, groceries or the light bill – varies by community.

A good place to start, McCoy said, is to dial 2-1-1, an information service provided by United Way of North Carolina to connect callers with resources in their area. The free service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Our role is to help people facing those kinds of crises get the best possible resources,” said Heather Black, state director of NC 211 and United Way North Carolina vice president.

Callers connect directly with a community resource specialist who can help determine eligibility for services in the program’s database of thousands of state and local resources. They’ll even help you understand what documents you’ll need to apply for services.

“We want a 211 caller to be the best client possible when they show up at an agency,” Black said.

Understanding your rights

NC 211’s database is also available online (nc211.org), where you can find additional guides and research on everything from the eviction process to how to access shelters.

Before an eviction is even filed, it’s important to know your rights as a renter in North Carolina. State law, for example, doesn’t allow tenants to unilaterally withhold rent.

Receiving an eviction filing, known in legalese as a “summary ejectment,” doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be forced off the property. Many cases don’t end in an actual eviction at all.

But a summary ejectment filing does start the formal court process necessary for the landlord to remove a tenant under state law.

Unlike with criminal proceedings, you don’t have an automatic right to an attorney in cases of evictions, which take place in civil court.

Legal Aid of North Carolina operates a Housing Helpline at 1-877-201-6426. The group’s website also has a guide to eviction in North Carolina that details how to prepare for court and what to expect.

The North Carolina Bar Foundation also has a website (nc.freelegalanswers.org) where you can ask legal questions related to housing, eviction and other civil issues answered by volunteer attorneys.