/Forced out her home with 24-hour notice, mother of four navigates eviction process, wins appeal — a rarity for Mississippi tenants

Forced out her home with 24-hour notice, mother of four navigates eviction process, wins appeal — a rarity for Mississippi tenants

She lived in the exact same West Jackson subdivision nine years ago in a house that had the exact same layout and design as the one she moved into. She fondly remembers the memories and said that her children have long longed for them. But, life has become more difficult. Her ex-husband was sentenced to prison and her son was diagnosed as having special needs. She felt that she couldn’t keep up with the demands of life and was forced onto the streets after only 24 hours notice. Wilder, 38, was shocked to see the “warrant for removal” notice attached to her front door with bright pink tape. It was a formal warning from the county court demanding that she vacate the property. She claims she didn’t receive a summons to appear in court. Even though she was not informed to appear, her failure to show up triggered an automatic eviction order. A Hinds County constable alerted her in April that she had 24 hours to leave — this was the first time she’d heard about her eviction due to non-payment of rent. Her records show that she paid her February and March rents. She did not respond to calls seeking comment from her former landlord. She saved enough money to rent a truck and a storage unit and moved her family from their home during a tornado warning and early spring storm. All of her furniture would be destroyed by mold and mildew. All her belongings were soaked by the storm during her sudden, fast move. They never dried out in the damp, cool storage unit. An automatic eviction was a time limit for the tenant to pack up and find a new home before they were forced to move. Wilder was the first case to be covered by a new law in Mississippi. Governor. Phil Bryant signed into law a bill that removed the 10-day grace period. It allowed for immediate evictions if a court rules in favor of a landlord, which is the most common outcome. Three days after the law was implemented, Wilder was officially evicted. She claims that she did not receive the summons to appear in court after the landlord filed for formal eviction. This is a common complaint from evicted people and lawyers. Wilder didn’t even know she was being evicted. Wilder was unfamiliar with the state’s laws regarding evictions and spent hours at the Hinds County Courthouse collecting documents, writing letters and seeking legal assistance. She won an appeal against her eviction two months after she had to move her family from their home. She was not found to have violated her lease and was evicted by the county appellate court. Although she was already out of the house, she appealed and was not required to pay any rent or fees. Wilder is a rare case when it comes to appeals for eviction. She says that even though she felt uncomfortable, she kept going because she knew she was right. She said that while many people feel they cannot go through the judicial process, she continued to attend court every day to learn and file paperwork. It helped that she is good at keeping records, and her persistence paid off. “I just showed up every day.” Although it is rare for tenants to win an eviction lawsuit, data and anecdotes show that they do so. However, no state entity aggregates the data. Mississippi’s lax landlord/tenant law tends not to favor the tenant, even though it allows tenants to be evicted from the same house multiple times. Mississippi’s landlord-tenant law allows them to start the eviction process if a tenant is more than three days late with rent. There are no eviction protections built in for neglectful landlord repairs. All eviction cases are heard in the state’s justice courts. This is without the mediation layer of housing courts like those used by some states and cities. It can be difficult to identify patterns and demographics among those most affected by evictions because data collection for evictions is not coordinated across courts. However, Princeton’s Eviction Lab researchers discovered that high eviction rates were more prevalent in Southern states and cities with greater numbers of African American families. The laws protecting tenants in the South are generally more relaxed. The overall U.S. eviction rate has declined over the past decade, but the Mississippi’s has increased. Mississippi has the eighth highest rate of evictions in the country. Jackson is fifth in large cities for the most evictions. Mississippi Today conducted a co-investigation alongside WLBT and found that multiple evictions of the same house were common. These evictions were often used by landlords to increase their leverage to not remove the tenant but to collect late rent. This led to a series of late fees and court costs for renters. Even though Wilder’s eviction was overturned, it triggered another process that she claims spiraled out her control. It took six months for Wilder’s Section 8 housing voucher to be revoked. This process would also require two visits at friends’ and family homes. She moved out of her home in just 24 hours to find a new place, but ten days later, she received a letter from her regional housing authority advising her that her Section 8 voucher would be revoked due to eviction. To keep her voucher, she had to appeal to the regional housing authority. This was a vital step in her quest to find stable housing for her four children and herself. She won the June eviction appeal and was able to reinstate her voucher. The deadline for finding housing was extended to mid-August. She was so confident that she had found a house, she presented paperwork to the local housing authority to extend her voucher for one month. She was finally settled in October and began to adjust to normal life after a difficult year. She attributes her success in fighting the eviction to her faith. She lost her home for the first time. Although she was overwhelmed by the court and appeals process, she persevered and won. She questions whether she would have been able to fight the eviction without her support network. She said that if it wasn’t for her pastor and his family, who gave their home to her family, she wouldn’t have a roof over her head, been able fight the eviction and “we wouldn’t know what love looks like.”