Court-ordered evictions decline in Durham

Nov. 11, 2013 @ 05:01 PM

The number of people ordered out of their homes and businesses by Durham courts dropped 9 percent so far this year from the same period in 2012, according to sheriff’s officials.

Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 5, the number of court-ordered evictions totaled 3,671 – 364 fewer than the comparable period last year.

Of those, 2,390 orders were served and 1,281 were returned unserved for reasons that included resolved disputes between a landlord and renter.

Most evictions in Durham involve people who violate their apartment or house leases, but others include mortgage foreclosures, according to Sgt. Tom Mellown of the Durham County Sheriff’s Office, which carries out evictions.

Mellown said a possible reason for the dip in evictions is an improving economy.

“It’s better now than about two years ago, and the housing market seems to have stabilized,” he said.

Many evicted renters are tossed out for failing to pay rent, but others, including those at public housing, often lose their homes because of drug activity and other crimes, he said.

Some evicted renters know how to play the system by paying part of their rent or taking advantage of an apartment complex that offers the first month’s rent free, according to Mellown. By the time the eviction paperwork is ready, they’ve often lived rent-free for months.

The deputy who spends his days serving evictions is Robert Jackson, whose encounters have included a hostile pit bull and people doing target practice. He once knocked on an apartment door when a maintenance man outside told him: “You’d better be careful. Don’t you know that man rides around the neighborhood wearing a Jason hockey mask and waving a Samurai sword over his head?”

Luckily, Jackson found that apartment empty.

Jackson has dodged injury so far and never fired his gun, but he faces the unknown every day.

“The residences are usually dark and have no power, and you’re searching a house without knowing what’s in there,” he said.

Jackson said that, most of the time, he lets the person he’s evicting “set the tone,” but not the agenda.

“I’ve had a few times where I had empathy toward those involved, but I can’t let it affect me in my job,” he said. “I’ve empathized with several families that I see are in a bad way. On the other hand, I evict some of the same people over and over every month.”

Jackson said he once evicted a woman twice in one day – at different rental homes.

After she was thrown out of a house one morning, she showed up that afternoon at an apartment where she also had an eviction order against her.

Sometimes, Jackson has to evict people with mental issues, but he tries to put them in touch with social services at the scene.

At other times, things get physical.

Recently, he arrested a woman who refused to leave her home, and had to pull her outside.

But, for the most part, Jackson keeps the peace by treating people with respect, according to Mellown, his supervisor.

“One of the reasons he doesn’t have many problems is that Jackson is really good at defusing situations,” Mellown said. “When he goes in there, he makes it clear to the people that it’s nothing personal, but that he’s got a job to do. I think they respect him for that.”